IN GOLD COAST
Gold Coast put on a glamorous opening ceremony at the Carrara Stadium, Wednesday as the 21st Commonwealth Games were officially opened by Prince Charles.
It’s down to business on Thursday when the games begin proper with Kenya’s Nick Okoth squaring it out with Michael Alexander of Trinidad and Tobago in a lightweight bout, the opening fight on the boxing roster.
Australians are celebrating hosting their fifth Commonwealth Games after previous editions in 1938, 1962, 1982 and 2006.
The 1938 games, then known as the British Empire Games, were held in the New South Wales city of Sydney with just 15 countries competing.
Subsequent editions followed in 1962 (British Empire and Commonwealth Games) in Perth, Western Australia, 1982 in Brisbane and 2006 in Melbourne where, just like this year, 71 Commonwealth nations and territories competed.
There were huge celebrations as the Queen’s Baton arrived in Gold Coast this week after a 230,000-kilometre journey around the world, bearing the Queen’s message which was read by her son, Prince Charles, at yesterday’s opening ceremony.
The royal visit by Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales and heir-apparent to the British throne, and his wife, the Duchess of Cornwall Camilla, has caused lots of excitement here with royal watchers having a field day trailing the couple.
Ahead of the opening ceremony on Wednesday, the royal couple visited a rainy Brisbane where they were honoured with a 21-gun salute celebrating the Prince of Wales’ 16th visit to Australia.
It was the seventh time that Prince Charles has officially opened the games.
Huge crowds greeted the Queen’s Baton relay (the Commonwealth Games version of the Olympic torch relay) as the baton made its way through the popular Surfers Paradise and the beach, ending at the Cavill Mall before the grand entry into the Carrara Stadium in an iconic blue VW Combi van for the opening ceremony held under intermittent showers before the skies cleared later on.
World 1,500 metres champion Elijah Manangoi carried the Kenyan flag around the stadium in the march-past after guests had been welcomed by Gold Coast indigenous leaders Patricia O’Connor and Ted Williams in a night of festivities highlighted by a performance by over 4,000 artistes, and headlined by the Aboriginal Bangarra Dance Theatre dancers.
Australia’s men’s hockey team captain Mark Knowles led the hosts through the stadium at 9:36pm local time with the public address letting out the popular 1981 tune by Australian rock band Men at Work ‘Down Under’.
“As you come together at the start of these Games, I continue to be inspired by the courage, enthusiasm and dedication of all those taking part,” the Queen said in her message read by Prince Charles.
“I send my warm wishes to every competing individual and team and to all those who have helped to bring about the first Commonwealth Games in this very special part of Australia, the Gold Coast… it now gives me the greatest pleasure, to declare the 21st Commonwealth Games open,” the prince opened the games at 10:25pm local time (3:25pm Kenyan time).
Okoth’s bout in the early hours of Thursday (5.02am, Kenyan time) with Alexander kicks off the boxing bouts at the Oxenford Studios where tickets are selling at 20 Australian dollars (Sh1,500) for adults and half the price for children.
A total of 13 medallists from the 2014 games in Glasgow will be on parade in the Oxenford Studio ring with Okoth confident of a place on the podium.
“I’ve trained well, prepared well and now I’m ready to open the doors for African boxers by winning this opening bout,” said Okoth who won a bantamweight bronze at the 2010 games in New Delhi.
Besides boxing, Kenyans will be in action in bowling where Eunice Mbugua was programmed to play matches against Catherine Wimp of Papua New Guinea and Carmen Anderson of the Norfolk Island in the women’s singles at 2am and 5am respectively, Kenyan time.
The squash pair of Hardeep Reel and Khaaliqa Nimji were drawn to play in the round of 64 and round of 32, respectively, in the men’s and women’s singles.
The pair just made it to these games after power battles at the Kenya Squash Racquets Association landed before the sports disputes tribunal where the current beleaguered association’s executive saw its attempts to have hand-picked players travel to the games nipped in the bud.
Kenyan swimmers will also be in action in the day-long programme in the pool at the Optus Aquatic Centre with Winny Langat also featuring in the women’s 58-kilogramme lift at the Carrara Sports and Leisure Centre.
Organisers will heave a sigh of relief after Cyclone Iris was downgraded to a category one cyclone.
With wind gusts in excess of 100 kilometres per hour in the north-eastern shores of Australia, the gales were threatening to stray into the Gold Coast games venues with Queensland State police issuing early warnings to locals.
Heavy rainfall is, however, still expected should the cyclone adopt a more southerly track.