Welcomed with Open Arms - Vanuatu

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Welcome Ceremonies have been taking place daily in the Main Plaza of the Athletes’ Village, formally welcoming athletes from all over the world to the London Olympics. These Ceremonies have been hosted by the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain, with their energetic performances matching the glorious weather of the belated British summer which has amplified the buzzing atmosphere which reverberated around the Plaza.

All the Pacific Islands have now been ‘welcomed’, one of which was the Vanuatu team. Having entered the Plaza proudly behind their national flag, the Vanuatu athletes from the disciplines of Table Tennis, Athletics and Judo were guided by the vibrantly dressed jester-like dancers who were entered upon their rendition of ‘Bicycles’ by Queen. Some of the dancers, dressed accordingly to the theme of Shakespearean Britain, circled the Plaza on bicycles, ringing hand-bells in time to the song as they gathered the athletes before the podium on which stood the Mayor of the Athletes’ Village to greet them. Other performers were dressed typically in Union Jack shirts with red trousers, bouncing around the athletes on stilts which certainly kept the ceremony eye-catching.

The Welcome continued as the ‘Queen’ entered, sat upon a jester’s shoulders, dressed abstractly and entirely in gold, from her outfit to her hair. She recited an inspirational poem, urging the athletes to “stand tall for your ambition”, with the spoken word enhanced by the emphatic whispers of the jesters on the key words, as they moved mystically around Vanuatu’s team.

Afterwards, the Press Attaché for Vanuatu, James Kalo, was received on the wooden stage to present a gift to the Mayor and to represent Vanuatu in the flag ascent whilst their national anthem rang loud in the Plaza. The team were proud to be representing their country, and they stood silently throughout this proceeding.

To conclude the Welcome, the dancers enthusiastically sang ‘Don’t Stop Me Now’ by Queen, encouraging the athletes by clapping and jumping in time to the music.

Janice Alatoa, the 100m sprinter from Vanuatu, reflected the entire mood of the team as she called the Ceremony “amazing”. They were enthusiastically moving to the music as they were beckoned over the red carpet, and they looked elated with the entertaining yet unique welcome into the Athletes’ Village, creating the significance of the athletes being part of a family.

Anolyn Lulu, the Vanuatu table tennis player, will be the flag-bearer at the Opening Ceremony on Friday; she spoke of the event’s enormity, “By seeing the Welcome Ceremony, I thought to myself how much more it will be at the Opening Ceremony. I was overwhelmed by everything presented on our welcome; I really enjoyed every bit of it. The one thing that made me feel so emotional was seeing my country's flag raised among all other flags; I told myself that I am an Ambassador and I will be representing my country in this world event.”

Since the Welcoming Ceremony, the athletes have been settling in to the atmosphere of the Athletes’ Village, staying in The Seaside section of the Village, specifically assigned to the Oceania nations. They have been mixing with the other teams, in the canteen, accommodation and training facilities.

Nazario Fiakaifonu, the Vanuatu judo player, spoke of his overall experience so far in London, “All these experiences gave me more confidence and helped me a lot to train harder. This is my first Olympic Games and it’s just a mind-blowing experience for me; I will do my best to proudly represent my country.”

These facilities provided to Vanuatu in the Athletes’ Village seem endless. The canteen has a multi-cultural cuisine which caters for every nation, seating approximately 5,000 athletes at a time. Even the sporting venues and training facilities exceed what Britain has ever seen before in terms of their enormity, scale and detail, providing them the best possible experience. The Welcome Ceremony therefore provided an introduction into what I am sure will be a momentous time of their lives.

By Emma Cullin of The Reporters' Academy