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India makes a statement as Games draw to memorable close

Friday, October 15, 2010 07:42:29 AM, Paloma Ganguly, IANS

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New Delhi: As laser lights danced in the sky and the best of Bollywood and Indi-pop music brought the crowds to their feet, bringing the 19th Commonwealth Games to a colourful and electrifying close here Thursday, India marked a triumphant moment, putting to rest a thousand doubts and pulling off one of the biggest sporting galas in the world with aplomb.

Fireworks in the night sky lent a magical halo to the over two-hour-long closing ceremony at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, crowned by a giant helium aerostat, as close to 60,000 spectators roared and cheered and even foreign athletes and delegates were left charmed.

It was a photo finish to the Oct 3-14 event that saw India showcasing its organisational might, putting behind controversies, delays, glitches and negative media. As many of the 6,700 athletes and delegates from 71 participating teams said, they had witnessed a different country from what they had imagined.

"Delhi you have delivered a truly exceptional Games and a wonderful experience for us all, thank you Delhi," said Mike Fennel, chief of the CWG Federation, who remained sceptical of the Games' success till just before the opening.

Even those who lambasted the organisers for an unclean Games Village, delays and lack of security had to admit by the end that it was one of the best Games ever.

The closing ceremony was perhaps the crowning glory. It was a night of martial arts, Sufi rhythms, Bollywood and Indi-pop music, powered by glitzy lights and booming music - as also nearly 7,000 artists. While tens of millions across India and around the world watched the ceremony on television, the crowded stadium had international and Indian dignitaries in thrall.

Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa was the guest of honour, flanked by Indian Vice President Hamid Ansari and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Sitting in the VIP box was Prince Edward, younger brother of Prince Charles. Congress president Sonia Gandhi was there as was Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit.

The spectacle began with over 500 martial artists from the far corners of India. Carrying swords, sticks and other traditional weapons, they leapt into the air or moved with agility on the ground, performing "Agni", the glory of sports. There was a burst of patriotic fervour as military bands worked up a crescendo. Bagpipers and drummers, clad in black, white and orange stirred up martial music.

The moment soon softened 2,010 schoolchildren, clad in white, came to perform "Vande Mataram", the national song. With the Ashok chakra at the centre, they spun around, and what soon materialised was the orange, white and green of the Indian flag - on the ground and their faces!

Taking over from them were the many volunteers who had toiled to make the Games a success. Waving and smiling, the volunteers in red and white track suits had their moment of glory.

The loudest cheer though was reserved for the real heroes - the athletes and officials of the Games, especially the Indian contingent. There were smiles, waving of hands and flags from the players, many of whom put up banners thanking India for pulling off a spectacular Games. And then in came Shera the tiger, the highly popular mascot of the Games!

It was a totally incident-free Games with a tight security cover at the venues and the Village and in other parts of the city.

CWG organising committee chief Suresh Kalmadi, however, could not seem to shake off his negative public image.

The CWG flag was then handed over to Robert Winter, lord provost of Glasgow, Scotland, which will host the 20th edition of the Games in 2014. Winter had a word of thanks for the Indian capital: "Thanks Delhi for being such generous hosts."

And the Scottish city sure gave a glimpse of what lay in future. A lone Scottish bagpiper walked in playing a haunting tune, and was soon hemmed in by smiling performers wearing checked Scottish kilts.

But the best was yet to come - a laser show crisscrossing the length and breadth of the stadium. Green lights flew like birds and then became spirals across the sky followed by electric orange. On the ground, 1,000 dancers wearing lighted costumes kept pace.

"It was an awesome laser show, simply superb," said Meghna Das who watched it at home.

But could any show in India be complete without its best export - Bollywood? From Kailash Kher and Zila Khan to Usha Uthup to Ila Arun to Sunidhi Chauhan and Shankar Mahadevan, they were all there. Folk rhythms stirred as did Sufi tunes.

Oscar winning composer A.R. Rahman's anthem for the Games, "Jiyo, Utho Badho, Jeeto" filled the air. The crowds went berserk, knowing fully well that is exactly what India and Indians had done.

It was after all a Games where India put up its best showing ever, with some golden clinchers on the very last day Thursday. While Australia took home 177 medals, including 74 gold, India bagged 101, including 38 gold, and England 143 medals, including 37 gold.

The CWG athletes fought in 17 disciplines staged at 11 venues. The participating teams hailed from Africa, the Americas, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe and Oceania.

More than sporting glory, it was about India's organisational might. Its 15,000 volunteers earned plaudits while the food at the Games Village where players stayed left a lasting taste.

There was criticism about the huge money spent - with estimates varying from Rs.300 billion to Rs.600 billion. But in the end, the mega event left behind spanking new infrastructure for Delhi and memories of a lifetime for many.

"I loved everything - the warmth, the hospitality, the food - and most of all the sporting infrastructure. I would say these Games were one of the best," said a Kenyan player.

Living up to President Pratibha Patil's hope on the opening day, it was human endeavour at its best!






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