New Delhi: Swimming heats got the Commonwealth Games underway in earnest on Monday morning with Delhi still basking in the afterglow of a successful opening ceremony that bucked the trend of bad news surrounding the event.
After weeks of negative stories about the 12-day Games for mostly former British colonies, Indian media, which has been unusually harsh on officials, lavished praise on Sunday night’s pageant.
“Nation silences naysayers with a spellbinding Commonwealth Games opening ceremony,” was the Mail Today splash, “Finally Delhi dazzles,” trumpeted the Times of India, while the Hindustan Times front page hailed “A spectacular start”.
India had hoped the $6 billion Games would showcase its growing economic power in the same way as China displayed its soft power through the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Corruption, shoddy construction, health and security issues blighted the build-up, however, bringing into question India’s ability to host a world class event and forcing the government to step in to ensure everything was ready on time.
“The show did more than just entertain those present,” influential daily The Hindu said on its front page.
“It left the audience upbeat and restored the country’s pride that has been so badly bruised in the weeks gone by.”
Newspapers also reported long delays for dignitaries getting into the stadium, a result of the huge security operation that surrounded the event.
Some athletes withdrew from the Games because of concerns about security in India, which have been particularly acute after the militant attacks on Mumbai which killed more than 100 people in November 2008.
Spectators were thin on the ground at the SP Mukherjee Aquatics complex for the first swimming action but the failure of several top names to make it through the heats emphasised the depth of quality in the pool at the Games.
Gold medal favourite Nick D’Arcy, the Australian swimmer who missed the Beijing Olympics after being banned for punching a team mate, finished ninth in qualification for the 200 metres butterfly and will miss the final.
“It’s pretty tough. I didn’t go as well as I wanted,” said D’Arcy, who finished second behind Michael Phelps at the Pan Pacific Games earlier this year.
“I’ve worked hard for this. It’s a big international event so it hurts, but there are bigger and better things in the coming years.”
Other early casualties were New Zealand’s defending champion in the same event Moss Burmester and women’s 200m freestyle holder Caitlin McClatchey of Scotland.
The first morning did not pass off without problems for organisers either.
Inaccurate test scales had a string of boxers unnecessarily trying to shed weight to get into the desired category at the Talkatora Indoor Stadium and another weigh-in has been scheduled for Tuesday.
“The athletes weighed themselves on the test scales, and found themselves to be over. They got back to the sauna trying to lose some weight and when they came back, they weighed more than the last reading,” Australia team spokesperson John Gatfield told Reuters. “It was really ridiculous.”
Competition manager Lenni Gama said the scales were “perfect”. “All this fuss is created by the teams who have overweight boxers in their team,” he said.
England’s Rebecca Adlington complained about the length of time it took to get around the congested city after making it through to the final of the women’s 200m freestyle swimming.
“I have no time at all,” the double Olympic champion said. “It is like an hour back into the village with all the traffic ... it is so crazy to be honest and not the way any one of us would normally train.”
Eight medals are up for grabs on the first day of action, the first coming in weightlifting where local hope Soniya Chanu is in with a good chance of keeping the smiles on Indian faces.