Scotland puts on spectacular show

20th Commonwealth Games begin

MARK GEENTY IN GLASGOW
Last updated 15:58 24/07/2014
Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
LAWRENCE SMITH/Fairfax NZ Zoom
Team New Zealand march in led by Valerie Adams.
The Queen
LAWRENCE SMITH/Fairfax NZ
ROYAL WELCOME: The Queen arrives at the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games.

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Lorde an Australian? Oh dear. Talk about an early hiccup for New Zealand when their toughest Commonwealth Games medal foes Australia entered a heaving Celtic Park to the Kiwi teen's hit song, Royals.

No matter. It was time for Valerie Adams to take charge, and she did, striding in boldly and wielding the New Zealand flag like a light sabre. Adams wore it well, loving every second of her lap of the towering, impressive stadium, as she will next Thursday when she claims her third successive shot put gold at nearby Hampden Park.

Just over half the 232-strong team in black followed their leader, beaming and waving between Nauru and Niue as the Commonwealth received a colourful Scottish welcome. The packed house stood and roared, Queen Elizabeth reigned and rocker Rod Stewart was king on his hallowed football turf.

Another gaggle of Kiwi athletes lounged on bean bags back at the village - triathletes, cyclists and swimmers amongst them - watching the festivities on TV and resting their legs and minds for day one of 11.

The unintentional trans-Tasman joust - with Lorde's tune sandwiched between AC/DC's Back In Black and Men At Work's Down Under - was a nice precursor to the sporting action. With Olympic team Great Britain split into four, Australia are dominant favourites to top the medal tally and provide the toughest obstacles to gold for New Zealand, starting at the pool and velodrome.

Particularly in the team sports, Australia have an edge in netball and men's and women's hockey, while the sevens rugby team in black should have the green and golds covered and face their sternest challenge from South Africa. New Zealand's only stated aim is to top the 36 medals they won in Delhi; with 45 in Manchester 2002 (including 11 golds) their best effort of the last five Games.

For now, it was all about Scotland, with a team of 310 and a country preparing to vote on its independence in six weeks. This was their show. It was possibly the strongest display of national fervour before a live TV audience since the Sydney Olympics in 2000, to the strains of Stewart, Simple Minds and The Proclaimers as a plethora of colourful performers sang and danced. "Welcome to Scotland," was the booming refrain from the announcer; actors Ewan McGregor and James McAvoy were the big Hollywood names and even cricketing royalty Sachin Tendulkar popped up via video link.

Still, the Queen received the biggest roar of the night and a standing ovation, confirming the Scots don't want to wave goodbye to her just yet, even if they form their own government.

Glasgow turned on a cracking 25 degree Celsius day and balmy evening. "It's like the south of France down here," bellowed one announcer from Glasgow Green. And the show was equally spectacular to usher in the 20th edition of the Games as the sun took an eternity to set on the party.

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Nice touches were everywhere. Scottish terriers and their owners led in each of the 71 teams. Cycling legend Chris Hoy - whose velodrome will carry plenty of New Zealand medal hopes - made the final run with the Queen's baton, passed on by his 97-year-old great uncle Andy Coogan who even tried to rise from his wheelchair.

Comedian Billy Connolly paid tribute to Nelson Mandela, recalling how Glasgow named a street after him in 1986 when the future South African leader was still imprisoned. Mandela's speech of thanks was replayed on the giant screen.

There were poignant moments, too, with a moment's silence for people from the Commonwealth who died in flight MH-17 over Ukraine.

Then it was time to unleash the fireworks and let the Games begin, as politics fades to background for just over a week and the athletes do their thing, at long last.

- Stuff

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