Pan Am Games leap into action with dazzling opening

Fri Jul 10, 2015 11:58pm EDT
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By Steve Keating

TORONTO (Reuters) - The Pan American Games got off to a jaw-dropping start on Friday when the world's erstwhile fastest man appeared to throw himself off the iconic CN Tower during a dazzling opening ceremony that shook the city from its Pan Am slumber.

While the opening ceremony, created and inspired by Cirque du Soleil, attracted a capacity crowd of 45,000 to the Rogers Centre, hundreds of thousands of tickets remain unsold for the for the largest multi-sport event ever staged in Canada, raising fears of near-empty arenas at some events.

After two failed Olympic bids, Toronto -- for one night at least -- embraced the Pan Am Games with all its big city might offering more than 7,000 athletes from 41 countries a rousing and memorable welcome.

Drawing inspiration from Toronto’s vibrant multicultural makeup while paying homage to the country's aboriginal roots, the Cirque du Soleil spectacle was rich in symbolism with a Made In Canada stamp.

"To the visitors from 41 nations I say this, 'welcome, welcome to a place that will feel like home'," Saad Rafi, chief executive officer of the Toronto 2015 Pan Am organizing committee, told the packed stadium.

"What you will see is Canadian hearts are big. They swell for country that we love but they leave room for the country of our origin."

Breaking from tradition, the emotional highlight of the evening came early with the stirring arrival of the Pan Am flame.

With a blend of technology and pure magic, Donovan Bailey, once the world's fastest man, appeared to dive off CN Tower with torch in hand for one thousand feet towards the stadium beneath as a parachute billowed.   Continued...