New Delhi: A pair of Kenyan marathon runners withstood Delhi’s morning heat as they raced through deserted and heavily secured streets to claim the first gold medals on the last day of the Commonwealth Games on Thursday.
The Capital was again locked down for the marathon and ahead of the evening closing ceremony, which will bring down the curtain on 12 days of action at the $6 billion Games for 71 mostly former British colonies.
The police ruled out any new threat to the closing ceremony and denied any additional personnel had been deployed in addition to the 1,00,000 police and military who have been guarding Delhi and the various Games venues.
India’s hope was that the event would display its ability to put on a world class multi-sport gathering but chaotic preparations and a series of organisational blunders turned the Games into a potential public relations disaster.
Suresh Kalmadi, the chief local organiser who bore the brunt of public anger and was booed at the opening ceremony, said he thought the 19th edition of the event had recovered well from its tumultuous start.
“All apprehensions that were there earlier I hope they have all disappeared,” he told a news conference.
“The whole Games was built around the athletes and the athletes have really enjoyed themselves... There were many challenges and we have face up to them so I am very pleased.”
Reports in British media of a specific threat to the closing ceremony again highlighted security concerns, which caused some athletes to stay away from Delhi.
“I have checked with the Delhi security people and our own Games security adviser and we have been assured that all threats have been examined and dealt with and the appropriate measures are in place to ensure good security,” Games Federation chief Mike Fennell said.
Rajan Bhagat, a spokesman for Delhi police, said there had been no change to their plans.
“There is no addition to the number of security personnel,” he said. “There is adequate security and there is no change in the levels of threat perception.”
Police in the insurgency-hit region of Kashmir said they had intercepted about 50 kg of explosives last week.
“We are trying to ascertain where this was headed,” a Kashmir police official told Reuters when asked if the explosives were being sent to Delhi to attack spectators attending the closing ceremony.
Police and army routinely intercept explosives and arms in Kashmir where Indian troops have been fighting a separatist revolt which has killed more than 47,000 people since 1989.
The marathon races, which started at 6 a.m. local time, drew few spectators despite a public holiday being declared in Delhi.
John Kelai won the men’s race ahead of Australian Michael Shelley with Irene Jerotich Kosgei leading home Irene Mogake in a Kenyan one-two in the women’s race.
“I feel great. I am so humbled to win here. It is an honour,” Kelai said. “I didn’t know I could be the winner. I knew it was going to be tough.”
The city’s wildlife was again out in force with police chasing stray dogs away and using sticks to try and to clear monkeys from the course.
Indian’s men’s hockey team failed in their quest to win a first Games gold in the national sport, humbled 8-0 by triple defending champions Australia.
Shuttlers Jwala Gutta and Ashwini Ponnappa, however, beat Singapore’s Shinta Mulia Sari and Lei Yao in the women’s doubles final to give the host nation its 37th gold and equal England’s tally for a share of second place in the medal table.
The good showing by Indian athletes has helped gloss over the organisational glitches domestically and hopes will be high that they can take second place outright in the last few events on Thursday.
“The Games has turned out to be better than worst feared,” said V. Ravichandar, head of Feedback consulting in Bangalore, which advises multinationals.
“The Games were really a metaphor for investment in India. It’s not a smooth ride but things work out in the end.”