The spectacle of the Commonwealth Games was unveiled on Thursday when Queen Elizabeth handed the relay baton for the race to President Pratibha Patil in a colourful ceremony on the Buckingham Palace grounds.
Patil, who later left for Cyprus, is the first head of state to receive the baton from the Queen, marking the launch of the Games that will be held in New Delhi next October.
The relay began at the ground itself. Patil handed the baton to Sports Minister MS Gill. It then went to Suresh Kalmadi, Chairman of the Organising Committee for the Games and Olympic gold-medallist Abhinav Bindra.
“It is great to be the first runner. It is a great honour and privilege,” said Bindra.
As hundreds watched from the Buckingham Palace grounds and gates, Bindra passed the baton to 13 other purpled suit runners specially selected for the occasion.
They included sports icons Sebastian Coe, Kapil Dev, Sania Mirza, Milkha Singh, Kelly Holmes, Monty Panesar, Vijender Singh, Misha Grewal-Soni, Sushil Kumar, Suzanne Gilroy, Karnam Malleswari, Dilip Tirkey and Gurbachan Singh Randhawa.
The Queen and the President stood on the stage and watched on the giant screen the runners doing their laps.
Before the run, Mirza told the audience, “I am happy to be among the chosen ones.”
‘Flying Sikh’ Milkha Singh was thankful for being given a chance at 80 to be part of the contingent.
“I can run with you,” he teased the anchor when he and the other runners were called on stage. The athlete, who ran 80 international races and won a record 77 of them, got a rousing reception.
The spectators too were a happy lot. “It was fantastic,” said Allen Brown, a spectator, after the 45-minute spectacle that included songs and dances from different parts of India.
The baton relay will cover 1,94,000 km in 70 countries (including India) in 340 days and reach New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on October 3, 2010 making it one of the longest relays in the history of the Commonwealth Games.
The Queen's message to the athletes will be taken out of the baton and read to the spectators in New Delhi. The message is engraved in 18-carat gold leaf-shaped like the traditional patra.