SPORTS

Pan Am party starts with opening ceremony in Toronto

07/11/2015 12:17 EDT | Updated 07/10/2016 05:59 EDT
When the old-time circus came to town, it would line up a parade that featured music and clowns, the elephants and giraffes, lions, tigers and bears and send it right down the middle of the main street. 

It was designed to drum up excitement and sell lots of tickets. 

We saw a modern version of that (no animals) on Friday night at the Rogers Centre (or the Pan Am Dome, as the program suggested) when the rest of the Americas came to Toronto to celebrate the opening of the 2015 Pan American Games.

This extraordinary evening, created by Cirque du Soleil (among our greatest exports), began with a piece called The Awakening of the Land, and it seemed to coincide with the awakening of an idea — that it was time to stop complaining, start this thing and have some fun.

And buy some more tickets, the organizers hope. 

By the time the athletes, officials and fans filed in, there were more than 50,000 people who didn't care about HOV lanes, or whether something built here should have been erected over there, or if the Pan Ams are as good as the Commonwealth Games or what athletes are missing.

They were here to celebrate the ones actually here, and have a good time at an event the likes of which the Toronto area may not see again this century (endless Olympic dreams notwithstanding). 

The evening ended with Steve Nash, a man who needs no introduction but we'll tell you he's a future NBA hall of famer anyway, taking the torch from NBAer Andrew Wiggins (who had received it from his mom, Marita Payne), and running it out of the stadium into the CN Tower Plaza next door, where he lit the cauldron.

Unlike when Wayne Gretzky did the same thing at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, it did not rain cats, dogs or any of this city's abundant urban wildlife, and everything went off well despite a worry Nash's flame may have actually gone out during the journey.

Family celebration

In between all that was a slightly overlong presentation (who wrote that speech for Dr. Julio Maglione?) of two hours and 55 minutes whose colour and sound swirled in and around the body until it took over your mind, spirit and soul. 

Among the dozens of things that struck an aging observer, was the idea that Toronto is the ultimate meeting place of the Americas. 

When people come from South America, Mexico or the United States, from the Latin American midriff that ties us together, and from the sweep of inhabited rocks that form a shield to protect the Caribbean Sea — British Virgin Islands at the top, down to Trinidad and Tobago at the bottom — they can all find something to make them comfortable.

Because all have people here, already. 

We simply, on Friday, got together with some thousands of our family and celebrated us.

We also met our athletes, those people who will entertain us for two weeks and whose youth and enthusiasm (even you, Ian Millar, all 68 years of you up on that horse next week), burst out in a riot of music, dancing and uninhibited joy. 

Some will be as happy in the days to come, but many will suffer defeat and perhaps be salved by the memory of this joyous night. 

A classic Cirque du Soleil routine involves a clown/comic chatting up a spectator pre-show before stealing her purse and walking it into the centre of the ring. It's left there, where the person has to overcome their shyness and come and get it. 

For that moment, one who is used to being on the sideline, is in the spotlight.

Over the next two weeks, Toronto and region is in that spotlight. 

Let's go and see what's out there. 

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