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Gay Games Cologne kick off

Notes from the Day 1 of the Gay Games in Cologne, Germany.

A lackluster ceremony: There's not much to be said about the Opening Ceremonies. Pedestrian is about right (or I could just copy the headline from the Winter Olympics opening).

The time leading up to the start, when the 9,000 athletes were clustered outside waiting to march in, was special as it always is. People taking photos, meeting jocks from all over the world, exchanging cell numbers with promises to meet up later. It has a great energy and everyone was in high spirits, despite some light rain at times (a first for a six Gay Games openings I have attended).

The parade of athletes was also cool, though a bit confusing at times matching who was actually marching in with who was announced marching in. I then loved the crowd really getting into singing some song about Cologne. But then the program started and it was snoozeville. To be fair, we left after Matthew Mitcham read the athletes' oath, so I can't speak to the entertainment.

But having people no one in the audience knew getting up to speak took the energy out of the crowd, which we estimated to be less than half the 50,000 capacity of the RheinEnergieStadion. On top of it, an athlete from San Francisco told us that the competitors could not hear a word of the speeches from where they were sitting. When I told him that the announcement of David Kopay being a Gay Games Ambassador drew a loud cheer, this athlete said he was not even aware it happened (compounded by there being no photo on the big screen of any of the ambassadors).

One-man team: When I saw a good-looking guy (photo) holding the sign for the Pakistan team, I figured it might make for a good little item. And it did, just not the way I was expecting --- the athlete who spoke to me had a charming Scottish accent, and last I looked Scotland wasn't part of Pakistan.

Ahmed Azeem, a badminton player from Scotland, volunteered to march in under the Pakistan banner since he has dual British-Pakistani citizenship and the athlete who was supposed to march never showed up. I asked Azeem whether he rooted for the Rangers or Celtic in soccer and I forget which; if I put the wrong one, he'll come and get me (that would be like mixing up a Yankees and Red Sox fan).

Indiana wants me: I received a warm reception from some of the Team Indiana players (photo), who remembered me covering them in 2006. They liked me even more when I told them I'm a huge Colts fan and then whipped out my Colts' long-sleeved T I had in my backpack.

Belting out a song: We asked athletes from various places to tell us where they're from (video). The jocks from Spain and Argentina especially got into, giving rousing renditions of songs that spoke to their homes. The Argentines even threw in a dance.

Welcome to Cologne: I have found Cologne to be a lovely and welcoming city. Everyone has been very helpful and they all have tolerated (and in some cases understood) my rusty German. I did find it amusing, though, that in the official Gay Games guide, they assured everyone that “German electricity is provided 24h a day.” But about the drinking water, they said, “generally you don't have to worry about the drinking water.” The qualifier “generally” is less than reassuring.

Competition starts: The 30+ sports kick off Sunday. There is a cluster of about half of them located in the same area as the Opening Ceremonies were held. It will make it super-convenient for fans and athletes to see a lot of sports in a short time; it's a terrific idea for what we hope is a terrific event.