New Delhi: A dazzling laser show and a musical extravaganza tonight marked the grand finale of the Commonwealth Games, the biggest sporting event hosted by India which crowned itself with sporting glory by winning an unprecedented 101 medals.
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Skies over the nation’s capital lit with multi-colour laser beams as part of the 140-minute closing ceremony at the Jawarharlal Nehru stadium filled to capacity of 60,000 cheering sports lovers including Vice-President Mohammad Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi as well as other sundry VIPs.
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As at the spectacular opening ceremony 12 days ago, all the controversies that had dogged the Games -- corruption, filth, snakes, mismanagement -- were momentarily forgotten because some 5000 athletes from 71 countries had sportingly competed for 826 medals of which India won 101, including 38 gold, its highest ever, to be the second in the tally behind Australia with a total of 177.
Prince Edward, patron of the Commonwealth Games Federation, formally declared the 19th edition closed amid thunderous cheers from the audience.
Reading out the closure statement, the Prince said: “In the name of the Commonwealth Games Federation, I proclaim the XIX Commonwealth Games Delhi 2010 closed.
“In accordance with the tradition I call upon the sportsmen and sportswomen of the Commonwealth to assemble in four years time in Glasgow, Scotland, there to celebrate the XX Games.”
The ceremony began with the arrival of dignitaries who included Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Vice President M Hamid Ansari, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, CGF chief Michael Fennell and Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the guest of honour.
The Indian national anthem was played as the packed stand stood up in respect to mark the beginning of the closing ceremony.
Pyros took off from the roof of the stadium giving a delightful sight as countdown from zero to 10 in Devanagri script opened up the proceedings with the crowd roaring from the stands.
There was much excitement and euphoria in store when a tribute was paid to the India’s sporting spirit, aptly titled Agni -- a segment that featured the fiery and passionate tradition of the country’s martial arts.
Chants of Agni shloka preceded eight martial art forms -- Kalaripayattu, Naga warriors, Thangta, Gatka, Silambam, Akhara, Dhan Patta, Talwar Raas -- that enthralled the audience.
Dressed in white, school children paid tribute to the motherland performing to the tunes of Vande Mataram as they took positions to form a rangoli pattern and Ashoka chakra on the field.
The athletes of the Commonwealth Games 2010 entered the field together as one big contingent signifying the bonds and friendships formed during the Games.
A 30-minute segment titled ‘Music of Universal Love´ featuring renowned Indian singers and musicians mesemerised the crowd.
It began with DJs performing with 1,000 dancers on five stages of the field in an electrifying atmosphere with a 25 stacks of speakers blaring 500,000 Watts of sound.
Musicians Taufique Qureshi, dhol players Kamal Sabri, Niladri Kumar, Bikram Ghosh, Sivamani and Raghav Sachar performed in the event. There was also further entertainment from singers Kailash Kher, Zila Khan, Sukhwinder, Ila Arun, Usha Uthup, Shiamak Davar, Shankar Mahadevan, Shubha Mudgal, Sunidhi Chauhan and Sreeram.
The official mascot of the Games, Shera, was given an emotional farewell by Indian singer Shaan as the ceremony went into the final leg.
The ceremonial flag handover segment began with Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit saying, “In a few moments, the ceremonial flag will be entrusted to your care so that in due time you deliver it to Glasgow.”
Official representative of the 2014 host city, Robert Winter, who is the Lord Provost of Glasgow, said, “This duty I willingly undertake to fulfil,” as the Games flag was lowered and then handed over to him.
In between, the Games president Fennell, presented the David Dixon Award to the outstanding athlete as there was a 20-minute special package of the golden moments.
Named after the former secretary of the CGF, the award instituted in 2002 is given to the outstanding athlete of each of the Commonweath Games based on their performance.
Scottish performers soon took the centrestage proudly showcasing their country’s spirit, culture and heritage in a 10-minute Glasgow segment.
The tumultuous journey of India, which saw a trouble-ridden build-up marred by corruption scandals and missed deadlines, soon came to an end.
Earlier, the drama of the last of the 272 gold medals provided the perfect finale for the hosts as poster girl Saina Nehwal saved a match point against Malaysia’s Wong Mew Choo in winning the women’s singles badminton title.
That was India’s 38th gold, one clear of England and for the first time ensuring them second place in the Commonwealth Games medals table. Australia were runaway winners with 74 golds and a total of 176.
“This was the toughest match of my career,” said Nehwal.
“I couldn’t sleep and I had a lot of tension, which meant I did not always play at my best. All Indian players face that here, but for me I only get it in finals.”
Wong had nearly beaten the Hyderabad heroine in the team event six days previously, and would have done so in straight games this time had Nehwal’s kill at the net at 20-21 travelled a fraction further.
Instead it landed plumb on the baseline and soon afterwards India was celebrating with a two and a half hour long closing spectacular filled with dance, music, light-shows and finally fireworks.
Nehwal’s win also eased Indian pain from earlier in the day when their men’s hockey team crashed 8-0 to world champions Australia in a record loss.
Earlier, Kenya finished top nation in athletics by winning the men’s and women’s marathon races and New Zealand defended their netball title in a cliff-hanger over Australia.
There was relief on the part of the organisers that the Games had gone off without a major security incident, even if the precautions taken meant that events like the marathons and cycling road races took place in eery isolation.
But other issues remained to be put under the microscope, notably over the way that New Delhi staggered into the competition with filthy athletes’ lodgings, crumbling infrastructure and health concerns.
Media covering the event were also incensed by a shambolic Games information system that left them struggling to gather even the most basic of news items.
The very future of the Commonwealth Games seemed to be on the line at times, 80 years after it first sprung into life as the British Empire Games.
Commonwealth Games chief Mike Fennell saluted Delhi 2010, but admitted that the creaking showpiece needs to rethink its timing and rebrand its image.
“Last year I gave a press conference here and I was asked if there was a Plan B. I said Plan B was Delhi and Delhi has performed,” he said.
Despite his praise for the Games, Fennell admitted that the timing of the event, already being held in a jam-packed sports calendar and in a year which has already seen a Winter Olympics and football World Cup, needs to be reviewed.
“It’s a challenge. We have to ensure that we attract the best athletes. For track and field, October is not the best month. Some are back at school and for many the season is over,” he said.
“It’s important to attract the best athletes and impress on them that it’s important for the careers. We have to rebuild the brand ahead of Glasgow in 2014.”
Kenya’s marathon double through John Kelai and Irene Kosgei bore testimony to one country which did decide to send their top athletes.
The big and strong Kelai took control of the men’s race with around 25 minutes to go when he made his move with a subtle increase in pace that took him away from the field.
“I’m so humbled to win here, it is an honour,” said Kelai.
“This is for my country, the people, the coaches and officials. All of us are going to celebrate. When you can win at this level you know you have reached your peak.”
In a race run in difficult circumstances with hot and humid weather, Kosgei was also crowned champion, claiming Kenya’s first-ever Commonwealth Games women’s marathon title.
But the day firmly belonged to India, who finished the Games in fitting style with Nehwal’s emotional win and a majestic spectacle in a packed Jawaharlal Nehru stadium.