She high-fived all of the athletes from the eight zones as they entered the Wesbild Centre in the official B.C. Winter Games opening ceremonies Thursday night.
She praised the support the athletes receive from their parents, coaches and sporting organizations and communities.
And, after receiving the flame from the final two torchbearers – decorated Vernon speed skater Connie Kapak and Vernon Special Olympics multi-medalist Steven Linemayr – B.C. Premier Christy Clark lit the official Greater Vernon B.C. Winter Games cauldron in the Wesbild Centre, and declared the 2012 Games officially open.
“Thanks to all of those who have participated in supporting these young people, many of whom will go on to great things, and are learning beyond the realm of sport, thanks to all of you who made it possible for their talent to shine as it will over the next few days,” said Clark to a thunderous ovation from the near-capacity crowd.
Okanagan Indian Band councillor Homer Alexis welcomed all participants to the Games being held on traditional land, while elder Virginia Gregoire offered a prayer in her native dialect.
Vernon Mayor Rob Sawatzky welcomed the visitors to Greater Vernon with tongue firmly in cheek.
“I apologize for the warm weather,” deadpanned Sawatzky. “I know you wanted cold, minus 20 temperatures but we opened the doors at city hall and let all of the hot air out.”
Greater Vernon Games organizing committee president Akbal Mund, not one for making speeches, thanked the 2,434 volunteers, which drew raucous applause.
“That’s what it’s all about,” said Mund. “It’s about them, keep clapping. Without them, the Games would not be possible.”
The biggest applause was, naturally, saved for the athletes and coaches, escorted into the Wesbild Centre by Queen Silver Star royalty. The loudest cheer was reserved for the final team, the host zone, Zone 2 Thompson Okanagan
During a lull to fix a microphone glitch, Kelowna female hockey player Kennedy Kneller said waiting to enter the Wesbild Centre was nerve-wracking.
“Terrifying, actually,” laughed Kneller, 14. “You’re looking around and you want to make sure you don’t fall, don’t trip, don’t run into anyone. I thought it was great, though. The public support for us is overwhelming.”
Just the opposite was Terrace female hockey player Ashley Kuehne, who was appearing in her second Winter Games (played badminton in her hometown in 2010), and has also been to the B.C. Summer Games as a softball player.
“It’s going to be fun here in Vernon,” said Kuehne, a right winger with Team Northwest. “We’re hoping to win a medal.”
The ceremonies, emceed by Global TV news anchor and Vernon native Randene Neill, showcased some of the North Okanagan’s spectacular talent.
Pianist Brandon Schmor had the crowd clapping and their feet tapping with his rendition of the Captain and Tennille’s 1954 Boogie Blues.
The Okanagan Rhythmic Gymnastic and Cirque Theatre Company wowed the audience with several spectacular routines, as did Accentz Dance Studio and the Seaton Secondary WL C-Tones choir, who sang a tribute to Doo-Wop.
Conductor Toni Rose and the Second Wind Community Band provided musical numbers.
Vernon hockey player Jenna Lazar read the athlete’s oath.
For Vernon’s Toop family, they were part of the crowd who waited in line for more than half an hour for a seat.
“I thought it was amazing,” said Nadine Toop, whose daughter, Brooke, is competing in hockey. “I cried when my daughter came out.”
Nadine’s mom, who recently moved to Vernon from Fort St. James, daughter, Blaire – who attended with a full leg brace and crutches, the result of recent major knee surgery – Blaire’s boyfriend River Deleff and Toop’s son Randall all thought the ceremonies were spectacular.
“The Winter Games are amazing for Vernon,” said Nadine. “It does nothing but good for the community.”
More than 1,100 athletes, 290 coaches and 170 officials from all over the province have been competing in 15 different sports over the past three days.The Games wrap up this afternoon with the closing ceremonies at 1:30 at the Wesbild Centre.