2006 Commonwealth Games open in Melbourne

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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

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Flying tram at the opening ceremony

The XVIIIth Commonwealth Games were opened officially by Queen Elizabeth II tonight, in Melbourne, Australia in a two-and-a-half hour spectacular Opening Ceremony held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. About 80,000 spectators were in attendance, and hundreds of thousands lined the riverbank of the nearby Yarra River, watching as the Queen's baton made its way to the stadium.

The Queen's Baton final runner was John Landy, the current Governor of Victoria, and a Bronze medalist in the 1956 Summer Olympics.

The ceremony began with the flags of Australia, England, (previous host) and India, (next host) being raised.

In a change from the traditional format, the teams did not enter in alphabetical order; instead, they entered in order of regions of the Commonwealth, starting with the European nations. Then Africa, Asia, the Americas, the Caribbean and finally Oceania entered the stadium.

Melbourne funk band The Cat Empire provided musical accompaniment as the athletes marched into the arena, playing music specifically written for each continent.

The Queen, dressed in gold and accompanied by the Duke of Edinburgh, received the baton, which has travelled to all 71 competing nations, where she read the message placed within the baton (366 days earlier on Commonwealth Day, March 14, 2005).

The Queen's said "I am glad to have this opportunity to offer my best wishes to every athlete and official taking part in these friendly Games .... It now gives me the greatest pleasure to declare the 18th Commonwealth Games open."

The Queen, who is 80 next month (21 April), was taken aback when the audience joined in a tribute of Happy Birthday, ending with eight bars from God Save the Queen, led by New Zealand opera singer Dame Kiri Te Kanawa.

4,500 athletes representing 71 teams from 53 Commonwealth countries will be competing at the games this year. A potential global television audience of 1.5 billion is expected to tune in. The Commonwealth Games will run through to the 26th March.

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