For the first time ever, the IVV Olympiad — one of the world’s premiere walking festivals — took place in North America. Happening every two years since 1989, it has been hosted by countries around the world -- Germany, Japan, Greece, Italy, and China, to name a few. Never before, however, has it been hosted anywhere in the Americas. And this year, it was hosted by the United States, and it took place right here in San Antonio.
The event started on February 19th and went through the 23rd. It was immediately followed by the IML Texas Trail Roundup (February 24th through 26th). Both events were hosted by AVA: America’s Walking Club, which is a national nonprofit organization with headquarters on S. Alamo St. in King William.
The two events combined drew about 1,075 participants from around the world — participants representing 41 states and 25 nations, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Mongolia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, R.O.C., Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Uzbekistan.
The events included walks in various areas of San Antonio (including a few here in Southtown), swim events at the NISD Natatorium, and bike rides along the San Antonio River. Registration data for the event showed that participants were slated to walk a combined total of slightly more than 37,000 kilometers during the eight days, and bicycle about 4,000 kilometers. These distances together are enough to circle the earth!
It was a busy and fun-filled eight days that started in King William with a community walk and Parade of Flags on Sunday, February 19th. Nearly 100 local residents came out to walk alongside the registrants, from King William Park to the Arneson River Theatre. Twenty five flags were carried in that parade - one for each participating country. The walk culminated with the opening ceremony at the Arneson River Theatre in La Villita. Miss Texas Ambassador Portland Tidwell lit the torch to open the week, and guests enjoyed entertainment by Travis Hudson, an Elvis tribute artist.
Throughout the week, participants and guests enjoyed continuous entertainment at Olympiad Village in La Villita, which was open every day.
People from around the world gathered here for this event, many of whom were first time visitors to San Antonio. Here’s what a few of them had to say:
“We were thrilled with the King William neighborhood, Riverside walks, and the history around the Missions. The 21 Km Missions walk was an eye opener to the history of Texas. What a diversity of walks in one city, San Antonio. Very glad we, Margaret and I, were able to experience all this. The volunteers of the AVA did an amazing job.” Matt S.
“What an amazing time. I enjoyed it all. I liked that the walks included the points of interest. Thank you for all your hard working putting it together. Thank you to all the volunteers that made it possible.” Robin K.
“It was an amazing event all around, and thank you for all the care and effort put into the event! San Antonio was a great venue and it was nice to be warm in the winter!” Cheryl P.
“It was a fabulous event. I loved every step (over 200,000 total, but who’s counting?)” Michael V.
“It was all wonderful, but my favorites were carrying a flag in the parade and meeting people from other countries!” Mary M.
And here’s what Henry Rosales, President & CEO of America’s Walking Club had to say about the event:
“The AVA board and Olympiad committee worked for years to create a unique Olympiad event, knowing this was the first time it would occur in the United States and the Americas. I am proud that we set the bar high for Olympiad experiences. Not only were the walks, swim and bike events well planned, but we showcased the beauty, culture and history of San Antonio for our international and US visitors. Kudos to the hundreds of volunteers, who enthusiastically welcomed participants, and worked very hard to ensure such a successful week. Our motto of Fun, Fitness and Friendship was definitely our guiding thoughts every day of the Olympiad.”
Closing Ceremony Performance
Another event in the neighborhood — a Margarita and Taco Trail walk — was one of the favorites among participants. It started at La Quinta River Walk and went through King William to the Blue Star Arts Complex. Eleven businesses handed out bite-sized food samples and drinks (mostly margaritas) on S Alamo Street. Other walks passed through King William on February 23rd and February 25th.
The Olympiad Closing ceremony took place on February 23rd at the Majik Theatre. Bexar County Commissioner Rebeca Clay-Flores spoke to a full house about her passion for walking; Grupo Folklorico de Bendiciones, performed; the official IVV banner was lowered and presented to representatives of Finland, where the Olympiad will be held in 2025; and the IML Texas Trail Roundup was officially opened with a poetry reading by local poet Nova.
Jane Gennarelli is co-editor of LNF Weekly. She also edits the Lavaca & Friends weekly arts and entertainment newsletter.
The festivities began in King William Park