ST. GEORGE — “The time out is over, and we’re back.”
With that announcement, Kyle Case, CEO of the Huntsman World Senior Games, kicked off this year’s edition of the games during a grand opening ceremony Tuesday night at Greater Zion Stadium.
The event featured a parade of athletes, musical numbers by Broadway star DeLaney Westfall and the Diamond Talent Dancers, and words of welcome from Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and representatives of the Huntsman family. Citizens, business leaders and participants from around Greater Zion welcomed the return of the games after a year’s absence due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Anne Abernathy, a six-time Olympic luge athlete from the U.S. Virgin Islands, was the guest speaker at the opening ceremony and also participated in the ceremonial lighting of the Olympic flame.
Abernathy spoke with St. George News afterwards and compared the opening ceremony at the Huntsman World Senior Games to the opening ceremonies she was part of at six different Winter Olympics.
“This one was more heartfelt than any I’ve been to,” Abernathy said, “because the people are here not just to win, but are here for the friendship and the camaraderie.”
Abernathy is competing in the archery event at the games, making her second appearance in St. George.
“I’m excited about going out to the archery range and seeing all the friends I made two years ago,” she said. “It’s just special.”
The friendly attitude and respectful competitive spirit goes beyond the Olympics, she added.
“It takes competition and games to a totally different level,” Abernathy said. “They truly follow the ideal here. It’s not win at all costs, it’s try to be there at all costs, and that’s a big difference.”
She said that world athletes train 24 hours a day, seven days a week for their whole lives to get to the Olympics.
“But the people that come here, this isn’t their everything – it’s just a part of their lives,” Abernathy said. “And that’s what sports should be.”
Abernathy’s participation in six different Olympic games is an incredible achievement and she got introduced to Utah because of it.
“One of my favorite games, it’s hard to pick out one, but Salt Lake City (2002) was when I set the record as the oldest woman ever to compete in a Winter Olympics,” she said. “So it is near and dear to my heart. I’ve met many friends here in Utah and I’m very pleased to be here.”
Abernathy, a cancer survivor, said one of her biggest thrills Tuesday night came during the procession of the torch to light the Olympic flame.
In the relay she passed the torch to John and Karen Huntsman’s granddaughter, Ruby Parkin Earl, who lit the flame.
“I told her how special it was to me, because I was inspired by the Huntsman family not only at these games but by their Cancer Institute and everything they’ve done to fight the disease,” Abernathy said. “It made it all that much more special to bring not just the competition, but life.”
Every year at the opening ceremony a member of the Huntsman family addresses the crowd and Earl told St. George News it was an unexpected pleasure.
“Being one of 56 grandchildren, being put up to the task was something that I never thought would come to me,” Earl said, adding that she moved to St. George while her husband attends medical school here.
“They thought it would be good to have me represent as a local of St. George and be part of the excitement,” Earl said, “as I’ll be able to not only go and spectate and cheer, but volunteer at these events as well.”
Earl said she remembers seeing her grandfather light the flame at the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City.
“I never thought I could be a part of something so great,” she said. “To think that I even have a part of this makes me feel on cloud nine.”
She added that the athletes at the games are an inspiration to her.
“Just their grit, their will and ability to not only be here and show up, but to be able to cheer each other on from wherever they’re from,” Earl said. “And to support them, to foster the friendships that allow them to compete. It’s so cool to watch.”
The ceremony concluded with the lighting of the flame and an impressive fireworks display. The athletes enjoyed the spectacle, none more than the Olympian who perhaps traveled farther than anyone else to compete in the games.
Alexander Romanov from Moscow, Russia, came to St. George to participate in the swimming events at the games.
“Fantastic. Exciting,” were the words Romanov used to describe the ceremony. “I really like St. George and Huntsman World Senior Games because everybody smiles – everybody is friends.”
He’s in St. George with his wife Alla Romanov, who is his cheering section and support system.
“I hope to swim and meet friends,” he said. “And maybe win a Gold Medal, too.”
Athletic competition in the senior games began Monday and continues until Oct. 16.
Fans can follow the games and see results and schedules at this website.
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