Special Olympics
Jakob Michael Berr 213d

Photos: Top moments from SOWG opening ceremony

SCHLADMING, Austria -- After a week of sunshine and blue skies, I woke up Saturday to gray skies and drizzle. I expected the rain to let up by the time the Special Olympics World Games opening ceremony started. Instead, as the athletes began to make their way into Planai Stadium in the evening, it was a downpour.

 

I grabbed a handful of ponchos that security guards were handing out to fans as they entered the stadium. I used them to manufacture makeshift camera covers. Still, I had to change lenses often; each time I did, I had to remove the cover, which took time and allowed raindrops onto my lenses. In search of a good shooting spot, I noticed a ladder leading to the roof, where I could overlook the entire stadium.

   

After a good walk in the rain, I made my way onto the outside deck, where I had a perfect view of the torchbearers skiing down the hill before the lighting of the cauldron.

 

Here are some of my favorite photos from the adventure:

Ready for the show

Families and friends who traveled to Austria to support their Special Olympics athletes were among the more than 15,000 people who filled Planai Stadium on Saturday night for the three-hour event.

Pure grace

Dancer Maria Naber was the opening performer of the ceremony. Here she befriends Dundus, a magical light creature.

The hometown favorites

Athletes from Austria enter the stadium carrying the official Special Olympics flag, an honor bestowed upon them in front of their hometown crowd.

The world unites

Athletes from 105 nations marched during the Parade of Athletes, including the delegation from the Ivory Coast, which brought two floorball teams to Austria.

Carrying on the tradition

Once the athletes were seated, they exchanged souvenir pins from their home countries -- a common practice at many international sporting events.

USA! USA!

The United States will have more than 200 athletes competing in Austria.

Grand stage

A group of performers enter the stadium dressed as Perchten, an ancient being who, according to folk tradition in the Alps, was supposed to scare away winter.

Weathering heights

Although athletes and fans were visibly soaked by the end of the night, no one seemed to be complaining.

The torch arrives

Austrian police officer Melanie Rettenbacher, followed by 105 torchbearers, arrives at the base of Planai Mountain with the Flame of Hope and hands it off to the athletes who will light the cauldron.

Let the Games begin!

An Austrian athlete has the honor of lighting the Special Olympics cauldron, signifying the official start of the 2017 Winter World Games.

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