herald

Sunday 11 December 2016

Team Ireland: 'I feel like I'm in heaven' as 88 Irish hopefuls enter stadium to chants of 'Ole, Ole, Ole'

US First Lady Michelle Obama
US First Lady Michelle Obama

AS THE clock struck six, the giant screens in the LA Colosseum flickered and US President Barrack Obama appeared to say it was showtime - and what a show it would be.

Flag after flag, country after country, athlete after athlete, all who will compete in the Special Olympics Summer Games danced down the red carpet.

Among them were 88 Irish participants led by Colin Farrell, Claudine Keane and John Treacy, who made the most of the special moment.

As Olé Olé broke out, stewards struggled to contain the excitement.

"I feel like I'm in heaven," Donal O'Mahoney from Wicklow said, while searching for suitable adjectives.

He wasn't alone.

Annita O'Connor from Carlow Town was experiencing her first time outside of Ireland and "couldn't think" what she was feeling as she sat on the pitch gazing at the spectacle around her.

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Tim Shriver, son of Special Olympics founder Eunice Kennedy Shriver, tried to sum it up.

"Athletes, this is your moment. This is your time. All around the world the wind is at your back.

"You look everywhere and see only the beauty of the world," he said.

It might be a hyperbole to say the cheers could be heard from downtown to tinsel town, from Venice Beach to Long Beach but such was the impact that it felt like that.

Even a false start by Stevie Wonder only added to the euphoria.

"You are the ones that will make a difference every single day.

"Your courage, your desire to make the world better," he said, before performing Fear Can't Put Dreams To Sleep.

The official anthem of this year's Games is Reach Up LA by singer/songwriter Siedah Garret, who said it all about "a can-do attitude".

US TV personality Jimmy Kimmel told the competitors the crowds were there "to encourage you and support you, but most importantly to take selfies with you".

He wasn't wrong.

Even after the sun finally relented the dusk sky was lit up with camera flashes both on and off the pitch.

By the time most of the singing and dancing was done it fell to Michelle Obama to declare the Games officially open.

She said they had captured the spirit of unity and "show us that we are all in this together".

athletes

"We see it in the amazing athletes who give it their all, who high five and hug every single one of their competitors.

"We see it not just here in Los Angeles but in the millions and millions of people all around the world who are tuning in to cheer you on," she told the 7,000 participants.

"My husband and I are so incredibly proud of you and we love you all from the bottoms of our hearts," she said.

The First Lady then reached for the night sky as she declared: "Let the 2015 Special Olympic World Games begin."

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