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Colombo shifts focus to SA Games

The Sri Lankan capital is all set to unveil the 10th South Asian Games on Friday despite Monday's powerful bomb blast.

india Updated: Aug 18, 2006 19:54 IST

Decked up like a new bride, the Sri Lankan capital is all set to unveil the 10th South Asian Games on Friday, hoping the regional multi-sport extravaganza will help shift focus from terror to on-field action.

Colourful paper lanters, festoons and banners have lent a festival like atmosphere to this tear-drop shaped tiny nation, showing signs of returning to normalcy after Monday's powerful bomb blast in the heart of the city.

For once, cricket also appears to have taken a backseat what with the fizz going out of the tri-series following the pull-out from South Africa.

"We are eagerly looking forward to the start of the Games. It is like mini-Olympics for us, cricket is okay but for now I think the whole country is interested in the Games," said Preethika, one of the volunteers at the Games village, reflecting the ebullient mood of the nation.

The eight-nation Games will be declared open at a gala function by President Mahinda Rajapakse, who is also the Chairman of the Steering Committee for the Games, at the Sugathadasa Stadium tomorrow.

A special fireworks display and a cultural programme highlighting the rich Sri Lankan traditions are expected to be the highlight of the opening ceremony.

A fool-proof security apparatus has been put in place to ensure the Games are held without any glitches, especially in the wake of the negative publicity that the country earned on account of the tri-series gaffe.

Sri Lanka, who hosted the Games once earlier in 1991, are being led by Sydney Games bronze medallist Susanthika Jaysinghe, who has been nominated as the captain of the entire Lankan Games contingent.

India, with a contingent boasting of over 300 athletes, start as clear favourites in almost all the 17 disciplines out of 20 in which they are participating despite the fact that they are mostly fielding second-string teams.

Ace Long jumper Anju Bobby George is certain to grab a large chunk of publicity as one of the top names making a comeback on the international stage after an injury layoff.

The Kerala athlete has been nursing a heel injury and a good performance here would stand her in good stead at the next month's World Cup in Greece and the Doha Asian Games later this year.

The athletics competition will begin on August 24 and conclude one day before the close on August 28.

Veteran shooter Ashok Pandit will be the flag-bearer of the Indian contingent which has women kabaddi players for the first time.

Indian paddlers, led by Achanta Sharath Kamal, country's leading paddler at 118 in the world, are also expected to hog the limelight as they come here on the back of a two-week workshop conducted by coach Benone Cristian Grigore who has 22 years of coaching behind him.

"The players are very motivated and hardworking. They may not be like the Chinese, in terms of swift reflexes, but are mentally tough," said Grigore.

First Published: Aug 17, 2006 11:26 IST