The island's 55 athletes parade past the grandstand packed with spectators at the CARIFTA Games opening ceremony. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
The island's 55 athletes parade past the grandstand packed with spectators at the CARIFTA Games opening ceremony. *Photo by Kageaki Smith
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FRIDAY, APRIL 6, 11PM UPDATE: Hundreds of people packed the National Stadium this evening to watch the official opening of the 2012 CARIFTA Games.

The ceremony opened to the strains of ‘Proud to be Bermudian’ (by John Wooldridge) and national pride was in full force, with the island’s flag waved across the stands.

The enthusiastic crowd started celebrating before the official proceedings began, with exuberant whistling and the sound of airhorns echoing around the stadium.

And festivities continued into the night as the young athletes from the 26 competing countries lit up the venue in a blaze of colour.

Bermuda is fielding 55 competitors in the three-day event, which was last held on the island in 2004.

The ceremony began with the Bermuda Regiment Band, led by Dwight Robinson, which paraded around the track to the cheers of the crowd.

Former Bermuda athlete Sonya Smith came next. The Olympian still holds the CARIFTA Games record for the javelin, set in 1979. She achieved 11 CARIFTA medals as a teenager.

Teams from each Caribbean country followed, in alphabetical order, brightening up the stadium with their infectious smiles and waves to the crowd.

Team Bermuda was the final one to enter, to roars of approval from the spectators.

“They are looking for success,” remarked the commentator. “This is a very proud moment for them.”

Before the official speeches, Ki-Juan Minors sang a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem and Canon James W Francis gave the Opening Invocation.

Donna Watson, former CARIFTA medalist and president of the Bermuda Track and Field Association, then welcomed all to the Games.

Ms Watson thanked her fellow committee members on the Local Organizing Committee and all the volunteers for their “hard work” in staging the 2012 CARIFTA Games.

“A big thank you to all of our sponsors for believing in this event, be it financial or in-kind service,” she added.

“Now let’s sit back and relax and enjoy these three days we have in front of us. We’re going to be watching some very intense competition.”

Urging the crowds to root for their home country team, she said: “Let’s make the CARIFTA Games 2012 an event not to be forgotten.”

Governor Sir Richard Gozney said: “Bermuda is a small island and population but they’ve come out tonight to show how they welcome your presence from across the Caribbean.”

Premier Paula Cox said: “Sport brings people together and I’m very pleased on behalf of the Government and people of Bermuda to welcome you to these 2012 CARIFTA Games.”

Using the words of legendary US sprinter Carl Lewis, Ms Cox urged the young athletes to “run your race your way, channel your energy and focus”.

Glenn Blakeney, Minister of Youth, Families and Sports, said: “I’m so very proud and excited that Bermuda is hosting the CARIFTA Games in our National Stadium for the fourth time.

“Sport is the galvanizing force which brings people and countries together.”

Neville Teddy McCook, NACAC (North American, Central American and Caribbean Athletics Association) president, described CARIFTA as “probably the most important junior track and field event [in the world]”.

“Over these three days we will see some great and amazing talent of the region. The Caribbean is a powerhouse in athletics.”

Taylor Ashley Bean read the Athletes’ Oath which encourages entrants to compete in the “true spirit of sportsmanship”, and Calvin Dill read the Officials’ Oath.

Hamilton Town Crier Ed Christopher then declared the 2012 CARIFTA Games officially open, and the official Games flag was raised.

As the evening’s musical entertainment began, Sonya Smith told the Bermuda Sun how proud she was to lead out the parade of teams.

“It was amazing, it was such an experience,” she said.

“It really felt wonderful.”

Her advice for the young athletes was to “win the medals and if not, then try to do your personal best”.