Military World Games Open in Zagreb
By Spc. Annie Burrows
Special to American Forces Press Service
ZAGREB, Croatia, Aug. 10, 1999 A spectacular ceremony bathed in lights and steeped in the brotherhood of 8,000 military athletes opened the 2nd Military World Games here Aug. 8.
The competitors, from 78 countries, were cheered by thousands of spectators in Maksimir Stadium in Zagreb. The presidents of Croatia, the International Olympic Committee and the International Military Sports Council [CISM, from the council's French name] greeted the audience and welcomed the athletes. CISM sponsors the games.
"Armies directly influence the development of relations between nations by the very conduct of war," said Croatian President Franjo Tudman. "Through mutual knowledge and appreciation, armies can also serve to prevent military conflicts. I hope these Military World Games will serve this noble goal."
The festivities began with a review of several historical Croatian military units followed by each country's athletes and officials. Members of the honorary unit of the 1st Croatian Guardian Corps carried and raised the Croatian and CISM flags.
Soon, the audience cheered the teams as they proudly entered the stadium behind their nations' banners. Some teams marched in perfect step while others waved to the crowd.
"I think this a great honor and a once-in-a-lifetime experience," said standard bearer Senior Airman Aaron J. Sieracki, who led the U.S. contingent of nearly 375 athletes. "It's great seeing everyone coming together like this." Sieracki, a Greco-Roman wrestler, is stationed at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo.
"The military forces have always been involved in development of sport in their countries by providing technical assistance, human resources and the best athletes to Olympic teams," Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch told the audience. "They play an essential part in the organization of the Olympic Games."
Col. Gianni Gola, CISM president, wished the athletes success and told them to remember "fair play" and to respect their opponents in both victories and defeats. "My dearest wish is that you should all be conscious that the first big victory, the most important of all, is to be assembled here," he said. "It's a victory of a strong effort for world peace."
The lights of the stadium dimmed as a rider on horseback carried the flame of peace into the stadium. After circuiting the track, he rode up a ramp and passed the flame to Natasa Vezmar, a member of the Croatian taekwondo team. Vezmar then lit the flame that will burn throughout the games.
A fireworks display followed, and Croatian groups closed the event with rounds of traditional dances and songs. At the end of the ceremony, athletes from several countries danced and marched together as they exited the stadium, enjoying each other's company and the chance to compete before the world.
[Spc. Annie Burrows is a member of the Army Reserve 358th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, 96th Regional Support Command, Fort Douglas, Utah, assigned to cover the Military World Games.]