Top international sailors put on a show of strength in Perth’s Forrest Place
on Friday to help launch the Perth 2011 ISAF Sailing World Championships.
Several thousand people in the CBD watched as the athletes paraded from
Barrack Street jetty to the heart of Perth, where they were warmly
welcomed by a team of hosts, including Western Australian Premier
The athletes had sailed upriver on Rottnest Island ferries from Fremantle, passing under bridges lined with well-wishers, and paraded through the city past a crowd of cheering locals, all braving the 33C heat. While the Japanese and Korean teams posed for a combined photograph, the New Zealand men squeezed in some rugby practice in the backdrop.
Onlookers lined the streets as the athletes walked behind their national flags, occasionally cheering and posing for photographs. They were led by a Royal Australian Navy band — described by the Chief Petty Officer Gabe Kicsak as a “rock band on steroids”. Irish flag bearer Scott Flanagan twisted the flag in his hands as he joked that the Perth heat was nothing compared to Ireland’s “tropical climate”.
Also in the procession was Hungarian windsurfer Aron Gadorvalvi, who could be seen getting a workout with his toddler daughter’s pushchair. Drifting in and out of the procession during the march were Denmark’s athletes stocking up on ice-cream.
Among those in the crowd were Trinity Sale (9) and brother Mitchell (6) cheering on their dad, Australian 49er crewman Marty Sale, who will compete with his skipper Duncan Head. Trinity, who attends Perth’s Rawlinson Primary School, said: “I liked it a lot, especially as my dad was marching.”
Forrest Place was awash with colour, flags and cameras small and large as the athletes made their entry. “The Fremantle Doctor is calling — may you all achieve your dreams,” ISAF President Goran Petersson said, referring to the world championships and Olympic selection at stake.
The ceremonial part of the event was opened by three Aboriginal dancers, with Dr Richard Walley on the didgeridoo and performing the traditional Welcome to Country. The Australian anthem was sung by talented Perth busker, Fiona Mariah, a former contestant on a national television talent show.
Marching for the first time were six nations — Kyrgyzstan, St Lucia, Trinidad & Tobago, Cook Islands, Kazakhstan and Montenegro.
The athletes’ oath was taken by three-time world champion Marcelien Bos-de-Koning (NED) and the officials’ oath by jury chairman Bernard Bonneau. Perth 2011 chairman Ian Campbell quoted Ernest Hemmingway in his welcome address — from a 1936 magazine article on why people go to sea. “The sea was the last wild place left.”
He also quoted at length from a speech made by former USA President John F Kennedy after Australia’s challenger Gretel took one race off the American defender Weatherley in the 1962 America’s Cup at Newport, Rhode Island. “It is an interesting biological fact that all of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean and therefore we have salt in our blood, in our sweat and in our tears. We are tied to the ocean and when we go back to the sea, whether it is to sail or to watch it, we are going back from whence we came .”
Mr Campbell said: “I wish all the athletes lots of sweat, as little blood as possible, and tears of joy as you enjoy the magnificent conditions off Fremantle in the coming weeks.”
India’s coach Mohit Nautiyal said he was confident in his country’s team. “The Finn is definitely our strongest event,” Nautiyal said.
“We are very hopeful for gold but [winning] is not very important. We are here because we enjoy sailing,” China’s team manager Ye Xiao said. It was clear that most athletes admired the Perth surroundings.
Michael Hestbaek (DEN), a Star class competitor, said: “I originally came (to the opening ceremony) with the idea to have a sail up the river and see the beautiful and spectacular scenery.”
“I’m sure there will be more to come,” said the three-time world champion in Laser (2) and 49ers (1). And on his hopes at Perth 2011: “I expect at least three teams to make the top 10 and hope some will medal. I’m hoping to be one of them.” Athletes then flooded the numerous Perth eateries for lunch before catching a train back to Fremantle.