Friday, July 14, 2006

We got Games

We got Games
A wealth of artistic talent, some record-breaking athletes and a ridiculous amount of fun. Let the Gay Games begin.
By Etelka Lehoczky
Copyright by The Chicago Tribune
Published July 14, 2006

Sure, there will be a triathlon, weight lifting and a 50-yard dash, but never mind that: What really make the Gay Games special are events like Pink Flamingo.

"They do these synchronized skits in the pool, with costumes and pop songs. Sometimes they tell a short story, sometimes it's just dancing," says organizer Nancy Harris. "The theme is Underwater Fantasy this year."

The unique blend of hard-core athletic contests with events such as the Pink Flamingo Aquatic Show is only one reason the Gay Games promises to be the biggest, wildest sports spectacle Chicago has seen in years. At six complexes around the city, 12,000 participants from 70 countries will compete in more than 40 sports and participate in more than 100 affiliated events. Some contests will be familiar to any Olympics watcher: track and field, swimming, diving, ice hockey and figure skating. Others are less conventional: sailing, water polo, soccer, mountain biking and beach volleyball. Still others are unique to the Gay Games: country-western dancing and cheerleading.

But the Games are also a giant gay-pride festival, so there are almost as many events scheduled for the not so athletically inclined. First among these is Saturday night's opening ceremony at Soldier Field. Organizers expect 60,000 spectators for this blowout--featuring giant production numbers and such talent as comedian Margaret Cho, Erasure frontman Andy Bell, actress Megan Mullally, comedian Suzanne Westenhoefer, singer Jody Watley and DJ Frankie Knuckles.

"The opening ceremonies are going to be unmatched. The program is very Olympic in its stature," says Games co-vice chair Tracy Baim. "It's got these great moments of power. It's definitely the No. 1 thing of the week to look forward to."

That power comes courtesy of event director Kile Ozier, who has crafted a production including a 350-member chorus, 400 dancers and routines created by three different choreographers, including Chicagoans Joel Hall of Joel Hall Dancers and Kevin Iega Jeff of Deeply Rooted Dance Theater. The show will feature four segments depicting different themes celebrating gay pride.

"It's all about up and down, up and down--from excitement to contemplation," Ozier says. "We have 100 lesbian drummers from upstate New York. We've got Anti Gravity, who performed in the Salt Lake City Olympics, and they fly and leap and spin. We're going to unfold the AIDS quilt on the field at one point."

The July 22 closing ceremony at Wrigley Field promises to be more intimate, but also more performer-focused. It boasts a lineup including Cyndi Lauper, the group Betty, singer Ari Gold and cast members from Showtime's "The L Word."

The "game" aspect of the Games ranges from intense competitions between top-notch athletes to low-key events where the emphasis is on inclusiveness rather than excellence. Power lifters and cyclists may train for years to achieve their skill level, and world records are set at every Gay Games in swimming, diving and track and field events, Ozier says. On the other hand, anyone can walk into some events and enjoy some laid-back competition, whatever their ability.

"People who just want to be part of the Gay Games can come and bowl or play pool," Harris says. "It's just an opportunity to compete with other people from around the world. How often do you have the opportunity to do that?"

Because of this inclusive spirit, the Games offer another unique spectacle: amateur athletes who took up their sports during their adult years, yet still train and compete as intensely as the youngsters who populate the Olympics.

"A lot of gay people are winnowed out of competitive sports when they're younger. In the Gay Games there's a real emphasis on personal best, no matter what your level," Ozier says. "In a swimming event, a former Olympic athlete might go slamming into the wall and finish the race, but somebody else who's there for other reasons might still have a lap to go -- and nobody gets out of the water until he finishes. It's utopian."

Ozier is a dual-sport competitor. He competed in swimming in 2002's Gay Games in Sydney, and he's entered in Wednesday's bodybuilding event after taking up weight training just last year. "I'm living on chicken breasts and dehydrated water," he says with a laugh.

Kevin Boyer, co-vice chair of the Games, is playing softball. He's also looking forward to the bodybuilding competition.

"To see people from ages 21-70, I'm looking forward to the inspiration of what might be possible in my later years if I keep myself healthy," he says.

Organizers expect big crowds at the Thursday night ice show, the Sunday night powerlifting competition, and the Friday night Grand Ball dance.

"It's kind of the creme de la creme of the dance sport competition," Boyer says. "I've never actually seen same-sex ballroom dance, so I'm looking forward to seeing some of that on Friday night."

Gay Games VII





Opening ceremony

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Soldier Field, 1600 S. Lake Shore Drive

Price: $35-$150; 773-907-2006 or

Closing ceremony

When: 3 p.m. July 22

Where: Wrigley Field. Clark and Addison

Price: $35-$150; 773-907-2006 or

- - -

Gay Games VII

Saturday through July 22 with events around the city and near suburbs. For tickets, venues, maps and directions, contact Tickets to most sport competitions and cultural events can be purchased online, or at selected Hot Tix locations.

- Some events are free, and tickets for the rest range from $10-$20. Exceptions are the Ice Show: Figure Skating Champions (Thursday at McFetridge Park, 3843 N. California Ave.; $50) and Grand Ball Dance of Champions (July 21 at Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Ave.; $75). The Pink Flamingo Aquatic Show at UIC is sold out.

- Opening Ceremony is 8 p.m. Saturday at Soldier Field; $35-$150.

- Closing Ceremony is 3 p.m. July 22 at Wrigley Field, 1060 W. Addison St.; $50-$90.

- Sports competitions take place at Navy Pier, Northwestern University, UIC and other athletic venues Sunday through July 22. Highlights include track and field (a $15 ticket bargain for the 6-day competition at Hanson Stadium, 5501 W. Fullerton Pkwy.) and the triathlon (first wave at 6 a.m. Sunday at the lakefront and Lake Shore Drive; free to spectators).

- The Arts Festival is Friday through July 22 around the city. Cultural performances take place Sunday through Wednesday in Millennium Park, most are free. Highlights include the Cheer/Color Guard Exhibition (2 p.m. Sunday); the "Step Out! Band Concert" at Pritzker Pavilion (6:30 p.m. Tuesday with $30 reserved seats available); and "Sing Out! Choral Show" at the Pritzker Pavilion (8:30 p.m. Wednesday). See also our story with picks for arts events affiliated with the games.



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6:52 PM  

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