INDIANAPOLIS, AUG. 8 -- Vice President George Bush came in his stretch limo, one-handed pitcher Jim Abbott carried the American flag and the Pan American Games were finally open.
Thirty-eight countries, 6,000 athletes and 27 sports are here for the next two weeks. The official opening ceremonies of the 10th Pan Am Games began with the entrance of Bush, escorted by a pair of Indiana state police cars down the straightaway of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. They ended with former NBA star Oscar Robertson, a son of Indiana, carrying the torch into the stadium, and three-time Olympic track gold medalist Wilma Rudolph lighting the flame, all without mishap.
That was a relief to organizers, who were plagued by problems as the opening of competition approached. It has become apparent that the city was not entirely prepared to cope with 6,000 athletes from 38 countries from across the Western Hemisphere, and their geopolitical disputes.
"Right now, I'm quite tired," said local organizing committee chairman Ted Boehm. "I'll be glad when we start having some ceremonies and athletic events, rather than housing events."
Boehm was referring to the the dormitories that have overflowed, just one logistical problem organizers have faced. Venezuela was so furious when its delegation was split up, part put in a hotel, that local organizers were still trying to placate delegates in meetings at the village during the ceremonies. Then there was Chile, which threatened to depart altogether because of a visa dispute with the U.S. State Department.
But Chilean and Venezuelan athletes were part of the parade that marched down the racetrack straightaway and assembled in a stream of colorful uniforms. The athletes were greeted warmly by the sellout crowd of 80,000, which enjoyed a lengthy ceremony complete with fireworks. There was just one mishap in the Disney production that had "Main Street USA" as its theme, when a trolley car hit a horse and rider. The rider limped off the track but was not injured.
After that came the traditional parade and torch ceremony. A variety of uniforms marched in: Bermuda wore (of course) Bermuda shorts, while the U.S. wore coffee plantation outfits, white suits with red suspenders and Panama hats. Columbia wore khaki, Cuba wore all white.
Robertson carried the flame into the stadium to roars. His appearance was a suprise; organizers reached him just last week aboard a cruise ship and invited him to the ceremonies.
"First of all, I just didn't want to fall down," Robertson said of his run.
Robertson jogged into the arena and passed the torch to gymnast Kristie Phillips, who then passed it to Rudolph. Another former Olympian with local ties, Rudolph serves as athletic director at nearby DePauw University. She lit the flame to more roars and Disney music.
"I couldn't see if it was lit," she said. "I was hoping I was on cue."
The entertainment segment was a typically elaborate World of Disney affair, with 3,200 performers in a production that Disney executives estimated was worth "several million dollars." There were skydivers, rockets, bycicle tricks, stunt planes and a Disney magic castle behind Gasoline Alley.
Appropriately, "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" was included in the musical program, because as the opening ceremonies drew near, this event made dangerous rattling noises. First, organizers underestimated the size of the delegations: they anticipated just 4,900 athletes and staff and got 6,000. Ultimately, seven delegations comprising 330 athletes had to be put in hotels, along with 240 volunteers from the U.S. team. Also, 24 security volunteers abandoned their posts earlier in the week to protest poor working conditions.
Most athletes were relieved to move to a Mariott rather than stay in the cramped barracks at Fort Harrison on the outskirts of town, but there was mayhem moving beds in and out of rooms and some countries refused to cooperate. Organizers would not specify which seven countries were housed in hotels, but they said there was no security risk. The added hotel expenses could be in the six-figure area, according to Boehm, but won't significantly affect the $34 million budget.
The Chile controversy remained unsettled, and the biggest threat to harmony, as the games were set to begin. Earlier this week, the delegation threatened to withdraw when the State Department delayed a visa for Francisco Zuniga, a member of the skeet shooting team who was identified as a former member of the Chilean secret police, accused of using excessive force at a 1983 anti-government protest. As of this afternoon, the State Department had not made a decision on Zuniga's visa, according to U.S. Olympic Committee President Robert Helmick, who said tonight he was appealing to the State Department for a decision on Zuniga. Local organizers said Chile's participation in the ceremonies was a good sign that they would stay.
"It's still being considered at the highest levels of the State Department," Helmick said. "As a matter of goodwill, they are considering granting it . . . "
Despite the troubles, there were traces of good natured nationalism and international goodwill across town. At Acapulco Joe's Mexican restaurant, scant blocks from the Pan Am plaza, two U.S. flags flew in the window and a sign proclaimed, "God Bless America."
Much attention has been centered on pitcher Abbott, the University of Michigan star who carried the flag into the opening ceremonies with his only hand. Abbott leads a U.S. team that may have a dramatic confrontation with the dominant Cuban squad.
"I learned about it just walking into the U.S. delegation building," Abbott said of being selected to carry the colors. "I don't know if it will really hit me until I grab the flag. I hear it's real heavy, so I'm little concerned about that. But I think I'll be so full of adrenalin that I'll get it up there."
He did, and the Games began.