Olympic stars thrill young audience

By John Cousins

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Six thousand children went to bed last night dreaming of becoming Olympians after a dazzling opening ceremony for the NZCT Aims Games featured inspirational speeches by gold medal rower Mahe Drysdale and BMX silver medallist Sarah Walker.

TECT Arena at Baypark throbbed with excitement as the biggest crowd since it opened a year ago cheered and stomped their appreciation for great musical performances and speeches.

There were so many intermediate schoolchildren and officials that 3000 of the 7240 crowd had to content themselves with big screens in the main stadium, while the action happened in the packed high-tech arena.

It was a magical atmosphere, with impromptu Mexican waves and master of ceremonies Greg Cummings scarcely needing to tell the children to applaud loud and often.

He spilt a few secrets in his introduction to the Bay's Olympians, including that Walker tried rugby at Kawerau Intermediate.

"In her own words she sucked and went to the 'safe' sport of BMX."

A massive cheer went up when the two Olympians took the rostrum for shared speaking duties, with Walker saying it was the most exciting and wonderful crowd she had ever experienced.

Drysdale said it was awesome to be there and the welcome made all the effort of getting a gold medal worthwhile.

Walker said she was eight when she decided to be an Olympian while Drysdale played every sport he could at school and was nine when he was inspired by American sprinter Carl Lewis at the 1988 Olympics.

"I thought, one day I would like to go to the Olympics."

Drysdale said that although he was not very good at sport at school he did enjoy it and it wasn't until he reached university and thought his Olympic dream was never going to happen that he found rowing.

"We weren't special or different from any other kids, but we had a dream and set our goals."

Although Walker won silver, she said it felt like gold because she had given everything she could.

"Mahe came to see my race, which was pretty cool. I thought I had better make him proud."

The two sports stars agreed the Olympic Village's food hall was awesome although Walker said one of the things she looked forward to after the Olympics had finished was unlimited free McDonald's.

The Aims Games, hosting children from Kaitaia to Christchurch, was officially opened by Tauranga Mayor Stuart Crosby and for the first time included a small contingent from Australia. Competitions began yesterday and will finish on Friday.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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