Manchester rises to the occasion

KAMESH SRINIVASAN

IT was a warm reception on a cool evening. Manchester rose to the occasion in a brilliant fashion in welcoming the athletes at the opening ceremony of the 17th Commonwealth Games.

-AP Fireworks illuminate the night sky during the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony in Manchester.

Fireworks illuminate the night sky during the Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremony in Manchester.

Vibrant music and dance set the tone for the biggest sporting event in the United Kingdom, that played host to about 4000 athletes from 72 countries.

-AP Sir Steven Redgrave, Britain's five-time Olympic rowing gold medallist, beats on a drum during the Opening Ceremony. The drum was a gift from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the previous Commonwealth Games host city.

Sir Steven Redgrave, Britain's five-time Olympic rowing gold medallist, beats on a drum during the Opening Ceremony. The drum was a gift from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the previous Commonwealth Games host city.

There was a touch of innovation as a lady came down in a balloon to deliver the baton after doing numerous somersaults, forward and backward, high in the air, moving up and down like an angel, even as the spectators watched with bated breath.

-AP Queen Elizabeth II declares the Games open.

Queen Elizabeth II declares the Games open.

Manchester came alive to celebrate the good life. A lot of money had been sunk into the project, mainly supported through the Sport England lottery fund, and a lot of manpower had gone into setting the stage. It was important to set the tempo for the 10-day meet, and that was achieved with a touch of class.

The blend of arts, culture and sports made for a fine combination as the whole project coincided with the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the Queen. A baton was set in motion in March and it travelled through 31 countries, covering nearly 60,000 miles, before reaching the City of Manchester Stadium.

-AP The Royal Air Force Red Arrows display team performs a fly past.

The Royal Air Force Red Arrows display team performs a fly past.

The stars from Donovan Bailey to Sir Steve Redgrave to David Beckham apart, it was the six-year-old Kirsty Howard who stole the hearts of the audience with her sheer courage.

Kirsty was born with the heart back to front, and needed a series of surgeries, 11 procedures to be precise, to correct it. She was funded by David Beckham and his wife Victoria. She still has to carry an oxygen cylinder to sustain her system. Her courage was an inspiration to the whole nation.

The celebrations in Manchester had started much before the opening ceremony, as the streets were flooded with music, performances and giant TV screens at vantage centres in the run-up to the Games.

-AP England's Denise Lewis, the heptathlon gold medal winner in the Sydney Olympics, receives the Games baton from a woman performer, who enthralled the spectators with some spectacular acrobatics.

England's Denise Lewis, the heptathlon gold medal winner in the Sydney Olympics, receives the Games baton from a woman performer, who enthralled the spectators with some spectacular acrobatics.

Every venue had been built, or renovated to meet world standards. The venues such as those used for boxing were selected with a lot of thought, to serve the purpose in an efficient way.

Manchester being the home of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), there was no dearth of talent or technical power to beam the action, in a lively fashion, to the whole world.

Anjali Bhagwat carries the flag, as the Indian team enters the stadium during the march past.-AP

The Queen declared the meet open, and it was a sight to watch some of the teams, such as Fiji and New Zealand, expressing their reverence with a touching salute.

The stadium was state of the art, but it was mentioned that it would be converted into a football stadium immediately after the closing ceremony.

Manchester, after all, is known for its football. It will be difficult to think of athletics in such a place though the excellent weather may be to the liking of any world class athlete.

The record ticket sale gladdened the hearts of the hosts, and the tickets varied from five pounds to 190 pounds for various events, and the ones like the opening and closing ceremonies. There was a lot of demand for the tickets for the aquatics events, but the venue being small it could only meet part of the demand.

It was believed that the Games helped Manchester secure more than 600 million pounds of public and private investment. Some compensation for the failed Olympic bid that had cost the State exchequer 72 million pounds some time back.

England soccer team captain David Beckham and six -year-old Kirsty Howard present Queen Elizabeth II with the torch, during the Opening Ceremony. Kirsty had a rare medical condition, having been born with her heart back to front. The condition has now been corrected, thanks to funding by Beckham and his wife Victoria.-AP

About 10,000 volunteers made the Games possible with their energetic efficiency, making the whole project tick with precision clockwork.

It was an attempt by Manchester to impress the sports world to such an extent that it would force the IOC to award the 2012 Olympics to London.

Manchester did show its capability with a strong beginning. The momentum should carry the Games smoothly to the closing ceremony, which the organisers guarantee would be another memorable event.

The athletes, who danced to the tune, were doubly determined to make the best use of the stage that has been presented to them.

Work hard towards excellence, but remember to enjoy life. That seemed to be the message from Manchester.

"It's been a long night, trying to find my way And through the darkness Now I've finally had my day Well I will see my dream come alive at last I will touch the sky . . . I can reach any star I've got faith Faith of the heart,"

sang Russell Watson at the opening ceremony.

The programme came to its climax when the spirit of Manchester was celebrated in a large scale choreographic sequence. Spirits joined. Big frocks joined. Mirror kids joined. The Mancunians' costumes lit up, after they performed the water dance, when human beings got transformed into water sculptures and fountains. It culminated in a rainbow reveal and pyrotechnics.

Many hearts were moved, on that memorable night when Manchester emphasised its finesse.