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    Photo Credit: Nicolas Smith

Athletes shine at Gay Games Opening Ceremonies

By Jeff Titterton

Sure, an impressive parade of gay and gay-friendly stars came out to celebrate and perform at the opening of the seventh Gay Games—Megan Mullaly of "Will & Grace" fame, Erasure’s Andy Bell, and comedian Margaret Cho, among others—but the real stars of the show were the almost 12,000 athletes who made their way to Chicago’s Soldier Field last night to honor their home countries and local teams.

The party started at 8pm in the ultra-modern building where the Chicago Bears play their home games. After walking in the sweaty Chicago heat past the usual handful of right-wing riff-raff waving their homophobic signs and preaching about Leviticus, athletes separated from spectators and made their way into a separate door to prepare for their historic march out onto Soldier Field.

With the roll of a drum, the Gay Games choir, dressed in white, began the ceremonies with a soulful song, at which point the announcer brought out the tired-but-happy-looking line of Gay Games staff who have worked so hard to make these events happen.

And then out bounced the cheerleaders. Any gay man who looks down his hyper-masculine nose at a male cheerleader has never seen three men squat down and then throw another man 10 feet in the air, look up as he does a split and touches his toes, then catch him just before he hits the ground.

The cheerleading teams did their job well, inciting the crowd of spectators to cheers and screams by doing some serious flips and throws, then holding up signs that read "Noise!" and "Gay." And, as the crowd let loose with their own howls of gay noise, the first athletes made their way onto the stage.

As is traditional in the Gay Games Opening Ceremonies, Team San Francisco—the original Gay Games team started by Gay Games founder Tom Waddell back in 1982—led the processional. Dressed in blue jerseys that read "where it all began" and waving orange and blue pompoms, the hundreds of members of Team SF made their way out onto the field as the crowd cheered.

Following Team SF’s entry came the first of many country teams—Algeria, a small but cheerful group of five people; Australia, a large group of hundreds broken down by regional team; then Austria, Belgium, Botswona, Brazil and so on. Much to-do has been made about the divide between the Gay Games and Montreal’s Out Games being a split down American versus non-American lines, but judging by the impressive array of country teams represented, that split is somewhat exaggerated.

The crowd cheered for everyone, but really went wild for the most-represented countries—Australia, Canada, Great Britain, South Africa and the Netherlands; as well as for the solo athletes representing far-flung countries like the Maldive Islands and Uganda. After all, it’s one thing to drive down from Detroit, but quite another to make it to the Games from Sri Lanka.

Following team Thailand came the hundreds of United States teams, organized by state. There’s no doubt that the United States makes up a large portion of these games. While the sole athlete from the first state on the list, Alabama, proved to be a no-show, most other states had anywhere from a handful of participants to thousands. Team size generally relates to population and location of gay meccas—California, Florida, New York, Georgia, Massachusetts, Texas, Washington, and the District of Columbia fielded large teams, while states like Oklahoma and Kansas had just a few athletes under their banner. A few states, like Wisconsin with more than 200 athletes, blew open the expectations on their attendance, while others, like Connecticut with just three athletes and South Carolina with just one, seemed strangely under-represented.

The team processional ended with Team Chicago, an enormous and very boisterous group of more than 2,500 athletes. What a welcoming committee! Team Chicago came out cheering and waving, and the crowd cheered and waved right back at them.

A note of Chicago hospitality: We must note just how friendly the city of Chicago has been to the Gay Games. While a few angry hater types have made their usual protests—mostly centered around the sexual proclivities of gay men and their "concern" about the spread of disease—the rest of the city has opened its beautiful arms to the athletes. Everywhere you go downtown, you see signs and banners for the Gay Games. Cab drivers, waiters and Starbucks baristas all seem to know the Gay Games are in town, and they go out of their way to ask about it and congratulate you for attending. Thank you, Chicago!

Once the crowd got settled down again, the athletes took the Gay Games oath (in a nutshell: be fair and inclusive rather than nasty and competitive), then the lights went out and the athletes held up a rainbow assortment of glowsticks. Pretty! And pretty moving, too. As RealJock readers know, gay athletes are among our favorite people on earth, so to see 12,000 of them standing there in a rainbow wave really pulled our emotional strings.

As the athletes took their seats, the gay-list talent and persons of note began coming out and performing. The list of performers is lengthy, but highlights include singing phenom Christy Fairbairn, who belted out a perfect-pitch National Anthem; Megan Mullaly, who quipped and joked and then introduced Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daly; Margaret Cho in a very brief performance; Andy Bell performing two numbers; former MLB star and RealJock contributor Billy Bean; and out former NFL player Esera Tuaolo.

The opening ceremonies ended with a colorful bang of fireworks and the ceremonial torch lighting. No lame fireworks these—the gays really know how to put some pizzazz in their parties.

The highlight of the evening for RealJock photographer Nicolas Smith was when a sexy streaker took off across the field during one of the musical numbers. Of course, Nicolas enjoyed the scene so much that he forgot to photograph it for RealJock readers. Our apologies; we’re sure there will be more nudity throughout the week.

While a few swimming events took place before the opening ceremonies, the Games really start on Sunday, with the first wave of triathletes jumping into the water at 6am, and sports ranging from basketball to volleyball to wrestling kicking off their first rounds. We’re really looking forward to it. More updates soon!