Art, pyrotechnics kick off Commonwealth Games
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Art, pyrotechnics kick off Commonwealth Games

A potpourri of art, culture, lights and pyrotechnics that dazzled a worldwide television audience marked the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games.

india Updated: Mar 16, 2006 19:02 IST

A potpourri of art, culture, lights and pyrotechnics that dazzled a worldwide television audience of 1.5 billion marked the opening ceremony of the 2006 Commonwealth Games on Wednesday.

The ceremony began with the Indian tricolour raised along with those of hosts Australia and previous hosts England.

Overcast conditions and rumours the high-priced tickets (Australian $420-590) were sold out kept much of the potential audience away from the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG). But many did turn up at the banks of the Yarra river that was also used as part of the ceremony.

Despite the crowds looking closer to 50,000 as opposed to the capacity of 85,000, the atmosphere was quite electric with the airborne giant koalas, fireworks and ballerinas dancing around bikers welcoming 71 Commonwealth nations to the 18th celebration of the Games that date back to 1930.

The symbolic head of the Commonwealth - Queen Elizabeth II, who declared the Games open - was among the dignitaries that included Australia's Prime Minister John Howard, Victoria Premier Steve Bracks, Commonwealth Games Federation president Michael Fennel and the Melbourne 2006 chairman Ron Walker among others.

A flying tram, the ubiquitous symbol of Melbourne, flew out of the darkness and descended from the MCG roof to open the proceedings.

Performers came in the form of ordinary residents pouring out of the trams and onto the famous Flinders Street Station, dressed in colours that would seem outrageous to most but not out of place on a weekend in Melbourne's central business district laden with pubs and clubs and vibrant with nightlife.

Melbourne's strong tradition of arts and culture was the focus and it was best shown in the pairing of the Australian Ballet dancers and motorcycle riders backed by a riot of colour and music reaching a crescendo.

The Indian contingent was led into the stadium by defending trapshooting champion Rajyavardhan Rathore, resplendent in his 'achkan' and golden-hued turban.

The women in the contingent complimented the men with 'ghagra-cholis' of different colours that seemed appropriate for the joyous moment.

As the Queen's Baton approached the stadium, the pontoons and fish-shaped barges - one for each of the 71 nations - started sailing down the Yarra river.

For the first time in the history of the Games, a location outside the main stadium was used in the opening ceremony with Australia Rules Rugby captains passing on the Baton to each other from one pontoon to another before legendary Aussie athletes relayed the baton to the main podium where the Queen declared the Games open.

This was followed by an emotional moment as cancer survivor Delta Goodrem, one of Australia's best-known singer-actresses, rendered the specially written song "Together We Are One" as athletes from 71 nations formed a circle around the periphery of the stage.

The ceremony at the MCG was as closely guarded as a state secret and lived up to all the pre-event excitement it had generated.

So secretive were the organisers that they even banned the media from previewing the ceremony and threatened a fine of Australian $240,000 (Rs.8 million) if details were revealed in advance.

Fireworks lit up the night sky in synchrony all over Melbourne to signal the beginning of the 12-day sporting extravaganza.

Melbourne, which had once dreamt of hosting the 2000 Olympics that ultimately went to Sydney, has made up with another sporting extravaganza of its own - the Commonwealth Games of 2006.

First Published: Mar 16, 2006 19:02 IST