Extravaganza marks opening ceremony

MANCHESTER JULY 26. It was celebration, in its pure form. It was celebration of youth. There was light, action, colour and splendour. The City of Manchester gave a warm welcome to the athletes of the 17th Commonwealth Games on a cool evening.

``You may win, you may lose, keep your head up and stand tall,'' ran the song, to vibrant music that reverberated in the region. The athletes from 72 nations were literally dancing to the rhythm as they walked onto the arena.

Anjali Vedpathak Bhagwat had a 1,000 watt smile pasted on her face, as she proudly carried the Indian flag in the opening ceremony. Quite contrasting was Kunjarani Devi who walked at the end of the contingent in her track suits, unlike the rest of the squad which was attired in traditional Indian costume.

India was introduced by the presenter as the country with the maximum number of people in the Commonwealth. An undisputed truth, that did not say much about the power of the nation.

The Fiji contingent won everyone's heart at the arena with a majestic salute to the Queen, and there were many other groups that followed suit, but were unable to match the Fijians in the act.

It was a night of music with 300 loudspeakers providing an outlet for all pent up energy, when Manchester showed that it could celebrate in a simple and sleek fashion, with music and dance, backed beautifully by the fireworks that lit up the night sky in a memorable fashion.

The whole programme rose to a glorious climax with a rainbow dance, to the son `the spirit of Manchester.'

The ceremony set the tempo for the 10-day sporting extravaganza, and the host that it was just the beginning. It truly reflected the style and spirit of the host in a distinct Mancunian way. It was suggested that the idea was to show that ordinary Manchester residents can do extraordinary things.

The arrival of the Queen's jubilee baton was in a dramatic fashion, as a lady brought it down, as if straight from the skies, as she somersaulted a hundred times, before descending in a balloon, that had strings attached to the ground, head first in handing over the baton.

It was the turn of star athletes Denise Lewis, Ellen MacArthur, Moses Kiptanui, Sir Steve Redgrave, Donovan Bailey and David Beckham to carry the baton, before passing it on to the six-year old Kirsty Howard, who was accompanied by the 45 lb oxygen cylinder that helped her breath.

The young girl who presents a picture of courage to the whole of England, gave the baton to the Queen.

The former world record holder, swimmer James Hickman took the oath on behalf of the athletes.

It was the five-time Olympic champion Redgrave, who initiated the proceedings, by beating the drum that was presented to Manchester by the last host Malaysia. The Malaysians opened the evening's programme with a traditional dance.

In her speech, the Queen said, "we can all draw inspiration from what the Commonwealth stands for, our diversity as a source of strength; our tradition of tolerance, requiring respect for others and a readiness to learn from them; our focus on young people, for they are our future,'' as she declared the meet open.

The Chiarman of the Commonwealth Games Federation, Mr. Michael Fennell, dedicated the Games to the Queen, "in recognition of her outstanding leadership over the past 50 years''.

In fact, the arrival of the Queen was greeted by The Red Arrow, with nine jets flying over the stadium in a diamond formation, spewing colourful smoke.

In his tribute song to the assembled athletes, Russell Watson sang, "It's been a long road getting from there to here, It's been long time, but my time is finally near . . .''

The athletes departed to a 21-gun salute. Soon the people left for home, happy to have spent an evening with some of the very best in the world in a sea of joy and emotion.

It was a night when the best of cameras could not have captured it all.

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