Thursday was a night to celebrate.

For some, a celebration following more than seven years of hard work and seemingly endless hours in bringing World Games 2022 to Birmingham. For others, it was a celebration of the anticipation of what will happen over the next 10 days.

Probably most accurately, it was a little of both.

A large crowd wedged their way into Protective Stadium seats, corridors and luxury suites to party for a few hours during the opening ceremonies for the World Games.

It was a splashy ending to the day before the world begins competing in Birmingham.

“The World Games present an opportunity for any city, any country across the entire world to add another chapter to its history books,” said Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin. “We can showcase that to this entire world. This is a very unique opportunity we have for a lasting legacy of people coming here, seeing how our people are, the unique topography, amazing food, hospitality, Southern charm, I could go on and on.”

See World Games 2022 event schedule

Birmingham and its residents will have plenty of time to show the world those things. On Thursday, though, for the most part the focus was on the party on the Protective Stadium turf and sometimes in the sky above.

Music and dancing began about the same time the crowd starting filing in a couple hours before Birmingham native Noah Galloway carried the American flag into the stadium. It was the end of a journey with the flag that carried over 3,000 miles.

Not long after, the parade of athletes began with Algeria and its contingent, which appeared to be one athlete, leading the way. The biggest ovations during the parade of athletes came for Ukraine and the United States. The Ukraine athletes stopped for a moment, soaking in the applause, before moving on to their seats. It took the large contingent of U.S. athletes so long to file into their seats that the crowd filled the time by doing the wave.

The rest of the evening was filled with music, entertainment and a healthy dose of Birmingham history.

Competition begins on Friday in 10 events. One of the highlights will be opening day of the lacrosse competition at UAB’s PNC Field. The United States, which is the competition’s top seed, will play against Germany at 3:30 p.m. in the final game of the first day four-game pool play. However, the American’s first game could be overshadowed by the 2 p.m. game which features No. 2 seed Canada against Haudenosaunee Confederacy, which was formerly known as the Iroquois nation.

The Haudenosaunee lacrosse team is one of the top stories in the game. They were originally not allowed to compete in the games because they are “not recoginized as a sovereign nation by the U.S. Olympic Committee,” according to World Games 2022 CEO Nick Sellers.

“There was a huge outcry across the lacrosse community,” Seller said.

Eventually, the Haudenosaunee was allowed to compete but the field was already set by that point. The Irish national team, which was seeded in the final spot of the eight-team field, withdrew from the field to give Haudenosaunee an opportunity to play.

Friday’s game will feature two of the top teams in the field with the Haudenosaunee team led by Lyle Thompson, who shared national player of year honors with his brother, Miles, during his senior year at Albany.

That is just one chance to see some of the top athletes in the world compete in Birmingham.

“When you compete in the World Games, you only compete against champions, so it’s tougher to win,” said Sophia Oloffson, a 2017 World Games champion in Muay Thai.

Perhaps the toughest thing to do is find a way into Boutwell Auditorium for the sold-out Sumo competition on Saturday.

“If you have not got your tickets for Sumo, I’m sad for you,” Woodfin said with a smile.  

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