(This story was published in 2006).


The Games Open: Finally, they’re here. After two years in the making, millions of dollars raised and countless hours spent organizing the massive event, Gay Games VII kicked off Saturday night before an enthusiastic crowd at Chicago’s Soldier Field estimated at 30,000 fans and 12,000 athletes.

As openers go (this was my fifth), it was rather flat. A lot, for me, was the lack of non-American participation. Compared to past Games, it was very sparse (Games organizers could not give me a percentage). This is all due to the split between the Gay Games and the rival OutGames, which will be held in Montreal in two weeks.

The joy of past Games has been seeing thousands of athletes from all over the globe decked out in colorful costumes. Some of that was certainly there Saturday night and everyone was jazzed to be in Chicago. But the non-U.S. staging area was tiny compared to past Games and that was the biggest shame of the split.

There can be no faulting the organization Saturday — there were tons of volunteers, plenty of fluids (it was hot and muggy) and the procession into the stadium went very smoothly; everyone involved should take a bow.

As for the entertainment, I marched as an athlete, so we saw none of the opening acts. And once on the field, the sound system was so bad it was as if the sound was piped through a wind tunnel. When we finally got to our seats, the sound was much more clear, but by then I had been on my feet for four hours and was ready to leave. –-Jim Buzinski

l My shout outs. It was cool to see some people I hadn’t seen in quite some time; some not since Sydney in 2002. NYPD officer Lars Rains, always as friendly as can be, chatted with us for about 15 minutes. Outsporters Jim from Chicago and Philly Runner are here, the latter trying to decide which events to do. I hadn’t seen Greg Elwood from the Long Beach Rebels for a couple years.Curtis Moore, who took home 13 medals in track in his age group in Sydney, is back for more – and he’s got less hair this time! Boston’s Marc Davino and Phil Clawson are always a treat to chat with. Mac Chinsomboon will hopefully give us a crew update from West Manitoba (that’s a joke – crew is being held waaaay outside the city). Mike Horton‘s here playing basketball with Memphis. – Cyd Zeigler jr.

l Typical French. I know Jim had a different experience, but the French I tried to photographer couldn’t have been more rude. When I asked to take the photo of a group of three, the woman I handed my card to literally scoffed at it and tossed it back to me, as though she couldn’t be bothered. Maybe she isn’t out or something – I don’t know. But, I was certainly left thinking, “typical French.” – CZ

l My French connection: I laughed when Cyd told me about his reception from the French athletes. They were nothing but charming towards me when I took their pictures. Maybe it was me complimenting them on their cool straw hats. – JB

l Beaded ladies. Big props to the contingent from Louisiana who had the most interactive costumes, tossing out beads to the other athletes. – CZ

l Hizzoner: Mayor Richard Daley gave an intro at the opening that got him a standing ovation, talking up how gay-friendly his administration has been and condemning the anti-gay divisiveness of much of American politics. But he did show somewhat of a tin ear when he referred to Gay Games founder, the late Tom Waddell as “Waddle,” as in what a duck does. –JB

l Things running smoothly. One of the things I have to hand it to Chicago for – they are organized. Everything I’ve seen so far has flown nicely, there are a million lime-green shirts (those are the volunteers) around, and the timelines actually seem to be being met.

When Gay Games Vice-Chair Kevin Boyer told us today that they wanted to make the entire procession of athletes occur in 45 minutes, I chuckled. Now, maybe it took 50-60 minutes, I don’t know. But, they were pretty much dead-on. So, props to them! – CZ

Other Notes

l Registering on gay time. When we arrived at registration on Saturday around 11:30am, I was expecting a long line. Instead, I was registered and credentialed in about five minutes. When I went back to registration around 3:30pm, the line was, by my best guess, an hour long. – CZ

l Billy and Efrain. Ran into Billy Bean at registration. He was all registered, having done so a year ago and having sent in his photo. But he was sitting by himself in registration waiting for his partner, Efrain, who was one of those in registration hell having not sent his photo in. While Billy is playing tennis, Efrain can be found in the bowling lanes this week. – CZ

l Magic hands. No shocker that one of the most popular aspects of the registration and vendors area was the free massages. Of course, we’ll all be really needing them starting tomorrow when we’ve been actually competing. – CZ

l I feel their pain. We walked back from the opening ceremonies with Joe, a triathlete from Boulder, Col. He said that registration for the triathlon starts at 3 a.m., which is when some participants will be leaving the bars and parties. The race starts at 6 a.m. because, as he said, “people don’t like the bikes clogging the roads.” That and it’s about 10 to 15 degrees cooler than at noon. – CZ

l You should get to know Dave Kopay. Not enough people know Dave Kopay. I hadn’t seen Dave in about three years. Man, he looks really good. He’s been swimming and using his elliptical machine, and it shows. He was simply glowing in his mint polo shirt this afternoon when I saw him. And what a fun guy. He always shoots from the hip and generally has something nice to say about Outsports or Jim or me. I don’t get enough of Dave Kopay, and it’s great to see him get treated well by the Gay Games and highlighted to the participants. – CZ

l Weather Woes. The National Weather Service issued a heat alert for Chicago through early next week, with temperatures close to 100 and high humidity. The heat is the talk of the Games so far, and officials instituted their heat emergency plan for the Opening Ceremonies at Soldier Field. It included:
– 20,000 bottles of water (up from 12,000).
– An additional 6,000 bottles of Gatorade.
– 13 hydration stations with tents.
– Soldier Field opening its air conditioned club level area, which can hold 6,000.
– Fire Department misting stations, 18 medical teams and two ambulances.

The city takes heat very seriously, following a heat wave about 10 years ago that killed dozens, mostly elderly. -Jim

l No worries. Three women athletes at registration were asked if they were concerned about the heat. Nope — they’re pool players. “We get to be inside all week and drink beer. We’ll be in heaven,” one said. -JB

l To protect and serve. This is the first Games held in U.S. in 1994 and what’s most noticeable is the explosion of corporate sponsors. It’s no longer taboo to be associated with gay events and this was evident at the dozens of sponsors tables set up outside registration. ESPN, American Airlines and the Chicago White Sox were there, along with gay-themed businesses such as Oliva travel and Gay.com.

There were also booths for the Oakland (Calif.), Chicago and Los Angeles police departments, along with the Los Angeles Fire Dept. and the Los Angeles County Sheriffs. The sheriffs had 11 possible recruits sign up, but the LAPD considered that lame to what they have done (the two departments are fierce competitors at these kinds of events). LAPD will give is written test this week to 300 people who signed up. -JB