The World Winter Games are opened!

At exactly 9:08pm it became official: the Special Olympics World Winter Games 2017 in Styria were officially opened by Austrian president Alexander Van der Bellen. The formal opening was welcomed by about 15.000 people present at the Planai Stadium, with thunderous applause and cheers. Not even the bad-tempered weather god, who made sure that the grand opening ceremony of the World Winter Games took place in the pouring rain, could spoil this fantastic event.

But let us start at the beginning:

Shortly after 7pm the event opened with a LED-ski show on the slope of the Planai, which was followed by the first entry on stage of Maria Naber, a dancer with Down-Syndrome. Maria´s performances were the red threat through the atmospheric show, in the course of which she met Dundus (magical light creatures), cheeky Glöckner (bell ringers) and jesters, traditional musicians and the wild Perchten (evil spirits).

The musical roulette of the evening was opened by singer Rose May Alaba who performed the Coca-Cola Unified song on stage while the 105 delegations entered the stadium, accompanied by prominent supporters like Timothy Shriver (Chairman SOI), Mary Davis (CEO SOI), Donna de Varona (Olympic Goldmedalist swimming), Michelle Kwan (Olympic Goldmedalist), Angelo Moratti (Vice Chairman SOI), Samuel Perkins (Olympic Goldmedalist), Charlene Monaco, Jason Mraz (Grammy-Winner), Princess Nora of Liechtenstein, Archduke Guillaume of Luxembourg, Minister Hans Peter Doskozil, Minister Wolfgang Sobotka, Governor of Styria Hermann Schützenhöfer, president of the BSO (Austrian Sports Organisation) Rudolf Hundstorfer, Klaus Eberhartinger (Entertainer), Fritz Kristoferitsch (Bandleader Edlseer), Heather Mills, the Austrian skiers Conny Hütter und Christian Walder, former skiers Peter Wirnsberger, Reinfried Herbst, Marco Büchel, Emese Hunyady and Harry Winkler, president of the Austrian Soccer “Bundesliga” Hans Rinner and many more.

The following world premiere of the official anthem of the World Winter Games written and performed by Helene Fischer was received with a lot of excitement. The name of the song: “Fighter” – just like the athletes of the Special Olympics World Winter Games are fighters.

After that there was respectful silence during the tribute video for the late president of Special Olympics Österreich, Hermann Kröll, who died last autumn. It was an emotional good-bye to a person who had been fighting for the idea of Special Olympics for decades. Unfortunately, he was unable to watch “his” games.

Marlies and Benjamin Raich, Alexander Pointner, Mario Stecher, Trixi Schuba and Michael Tritscher, together with athletes and trainers, then carried the Special Olympics flag to the stage. Followed by the next musical highlight: Anna Maria Kaufmann entered the stage and performed an impressive version of the “Ode an die Freude” while the SOI flag was hoisted by soldiers of the Austrian army.

Timothy Shriver, Chairman of Special Olympics International, emphasized in his subsequent speech once more who deserves our admiration most and who is at the center of the Games: the athletes! 

Together with former Alpine skiing world cup winner Renate Götschl, Franz Horvath, an athlete from Burgenland, took the Special Olympics oath. The phrase “Let me win. But if I cannot win, let me be brave in trying,” perfectly sums up what Special Olympics is all about. The idea of the World Winter Games was also transported beautifully at the end of the dancing trip to a world in which different groups merge into a big and colorful togetherness, a joined dance performance of the Vereinigung Wiener Staatsopernballet (the ballet ensemble of the Viennese Operahouse) and the Dance Company “Ich bin O.K.”. 

This thought also resonated when the „flame of hope“ was carried down the Planai slope on skis and into the stadium by 105 torch runners, standing in for the participating 105 nations. Together with several dozen policemen and women from around the globe the Olympic flame was handed over to the athletes. Siegfried Mayr, a cross-country skier from Upper Austria then lit the fire bowl – at which point the church bells in all Austrian host towns started to ring. At the same time the flame of hope was lit at the other two venues, Graz and Ramsau am Dachstein. 

The grand final turned out to be a musical firework with thrill factor, just like the pyrotechnical one which lit up the skies over Schladming. Helene Fischer´s second act was an interpretation of Louis Armstrong´s classic “What a wonderful world”. And, finally, two time Grammy winner Jason Mraz and America´s Got Talent winner Grace VanderWaal performed together. Mraz, who performed his world hits “I´m yours” and “I won´t give up” together with VanderWaal, had already paid his compliments at the press conference in the afternoon: “I am a guest of honor here. But, really, I am honored to be a guest here!”

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