Commonwealth Games: Marathon opening at Games

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THE LARGEST of the 16 Commonwealth Games so far was regaled by the biggest - and, at seven hours, certainly the lengthiest - opening ceremony last night.

The whole atmospheric event was launched by a "pre-show" lasting two hours and the Games mascot "Wira" literally dropped in. The orang-utan was the last of 16 parachutists to descend into the stadium from a height of 4,000 feet in front of a capacity audience of 85,000.

Local pop stars Ella, Siti, Nurhaliza, Sheila Majid, Ziana Zain, Amy Mastura and Amelina performed on a giant rebana, a traditional drum. And local "ghazal" king Fadzil Ahmed sung his favourite number, "Dia Datang".

The atmosphere became more formal with the arrival of the dignitaries, and His Majesty The Yang Dipertuan Agong.

The Canadians, the 1994 hosts, led the procession of athletes, tossing frisbees into the crowd, the longest throw, high into the middle tier, presumably coming from the discus man. Then came England, a long red and black snake of competitors and, by way of contrast, the team of five from the Federations's new members, Kiribati, three of them with bare torsos in national dress.

Northern Ireland were led in by their cricket captain and wicketkeeper, Alan Rutherford, while Scotland were led in by five bagpipers, whose late bid for Games passes was successful. It was truly a case of Scotland the brave yesterday. Scottish team doctors had urged their athletes not to wear kilts at the ceremony for fear mosquitoes could fly up them and bite. "Our medical team advised it as a precaution," the team spokesman John Lindsay said. "But it's up to the individual."

The Western Samoans did the haka at every turn - the most popular part of the march past apart, of course, from the arrival of Malaysia at the end of the procession.

A cultural show involved 2,000 dancers, with the theme "Welcome To One And All", symbolising the "flora and fauna and richness of Malaysia", and then came the baton containing the Queen's message, which was read by Prince Edward, President of the Commonwealth Games Federation.

Among the tributes paid, the Malaysian government was singled out by Her Majesty, who suggested "they had provided support on an unprecedented scale and deserved the highest praise". The Queen confirmed that she would be attending the closing ceremony on 21 September, saying: "Prince Philip and I are looking forward to attending the final days of the Games."

The formalities were completed by a laser and pyrotechnic presentation with the theme "Unity Towards Progress", which revolved around the issues of the creation of a united Malaysia and the national vision.

Members of Malaysia's squash squad have followed in the footsteps of the Romanian footballers during the World Cup finals by dyeing their hair blond. The coaches Richard Glanfield and Raymond Arnold and the player Mohamed Azlan Iskandar were among those with the look.