GLASGOW — Chantal Petitclerc has watched the Maple Leaf go up to the sounds of O Canada countless times over her illustrious 20-year career as a wheelchair racer.
Monday afternoon, she wore the smile of a proud parent when the Canadian team marched in for the traditional flag-raising ceremony at the Commonwealth Games athletes village.
“It’s really an amazing experience being here, watching the athletes getting ready,” Petitclerc said. “I’ve been retired six years now, so it’s enough distance to actually know what it’s like, but not wanting to be there myself because I’ve done it, but really wishing the best for all of them.”
The 44-year-old, who won 21 Paralympic medals including 14 gold, is Canada’s chef de mission in Glasgow. She led some 100 Canadian athletes plus coaches and staff members into Monday’s welcome ceremony.
“It’s a very new feeling for me, because as you know athletes can be very egocentric. So after 20 years of thinking about myself and my own performance, it is a great feeling caring and wanting the best for all the other athletes,” Petitclerc said.
Canada is fielding a team of 265 athletes for the Games, and those in attendance Monday, decked out in their white and red Canada T-shirts and white track pants, were all smiles as the Canadian flag was raised and O Canada played.
Bal Gosal, Canada’s sports minister, greeted the athletes with a handshake.
The festive ceremony on a sun-drenched afternoon featured a performance by young singers and dancers, some with fiddles and guitars.
Susan Nattrass, a veteran of six Olympics and now five Commonwealth Games, will carry Canada’s flag into Wednesday’s opening ceremonies. She took the opportunity to mingle with her teammates.
“It’s such an honour and you want to be very appreciative. And then you also really encourage everyone to enjoy it,” Nattrass said. “It’s fun. I was talking to the (lawn) bowlers today. And the rugby guys. It’s really fun and it’s really interesting to see and meet with people and hear of their experiences.”
The athletes village, which sits in the shadow of Celtic Park — normally home to Celtic FC soccer club and the venue for Wednesday’s opening ceremonies — was abuzz with athletes milling about at the nearby shopping area and hair and nail salon.
“We’re really excited. The village has been great — feels like you’re at home,” said Kate Gillis, captain of Canada’s women’s field hockey team.
The positive vibe was a departure from four years ago when organizers were still rushing to finish the athletes village — amid complaints of unsanitary conditions — and sports venues at the Games in New Delhi.
An outbreak of norovirus, a highly contagious gastrointestinal illness, made headlines in Glasgow last week after 53 employees at the athletes village fell ill. But Glasgow officials said the virus was under control, and shut down a temporary toilet facility that was identified as the likely source of the bug.
Preparation for Glasgow has been otherwise smooth sailing. There have been no grumblings about venue construction, tickets are sold out for many events, and the athletes have raved about the athletes village.
The only minor concern has been about the weather in a country known almost as much for its soggy conditions as its Scotch and its shortbread. But there was no rain in sight Monday as temperatures reached 22 C. And the forecast is even brighter, calling for sunny skies and temperatures that could soar as 26 this week.
The Games feature some 4,500 athletes competing in 17 sports over 11 days. It’s the only fully integrated major Games, with 22 Paralympic events in five sports.
Petitclerc, who carried Canada’s flag into the opening ceremonies at the 2006 Games in Melbourne, Australia, won gold over 800 metres at the 2002 Games — when Paralympic sports were given official status — and then again in 2006.
The welcome ceremony, she said, represented the “last countdown” before the athletes’ competitions begin.
“So every athlete is really trying to focus on their event and getting a little bit of butterflies, so it’s a very important moment,” she said. “At this point, physically, there’s not much they can do except for resting, so it becomes a mental situation where you’re really trying to find that good place in your head and just be good.
“That’s how the village and the team is important because it can provide a home away from home.”
The Canadian team’s goal is to reclaim its traditional spot among the top three in the medal table after finishing fourth four years ago in New Delhi behind Australia, England and host India. Canada claimed 76 total medals in 2010, including 26 gold, 17 silver and 33 bronze.