Millions watch as 'Friendly games' begin

The Commonwealth Games opened last night with a spectacular ceremony that heralded 11 days of competitive action at one of the world's biggest sporting events.

After weeks of setbacks that threatened the attraction itself the Indian authorities staged a cultural show of flair, imagination and excitement in Delhi watched by a global audience of millions.

The Prince of Wales joined India's president Pratibha Patil at the opening ceremony that welcomed many of the 6,000 sportsmen and women from across the Commonwealth taking part.

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The "Friendly Games" begin in earnest today and the first day will see double Olympic swimming champion Rebecca Adlington battling for one of the eight gold medals up for grabs on the day.

Her appearance is an exception as many notable names in world sport have chosen to either overlook the event or have withdrawn through injury. However, reigning World 10-metre platform diving champion Tom Daley has made the trip to India.

The Indian authorities have put in place almost unprecedented levels of security for a sporting event, with around 30,000 police deployed at the 41 Games venues reinforced by thousands of troops.

An audience of almost 60,000 had to negotiate stringent airport style checks where bottles of water, food and even mosquito sprays – in a city where insect borne dengue fever has broken out – were confiscated before they were allowed to their seats to watch the ceremony.

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The two-and-a-half-hour spectacular saw a 5.5m helium filled airship – said to be world's largest – float above the crowds in the humid night air as iconic images of India's founding father Gandhi, the famous Taj Mahal mausoleum and Buddha were screened on to it as well as other pictures.

During the show 5,000 years of India's cultural history were depicted in seven acts that used music, dance, and light to tell the story in the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Delhi.

Highlights from the event saw almost 1,000 drummers from across the Asian country beat out a deafening rhythm and dazzling puppets from Rajasthan dance for the audience.

The 71 teams taking part ranged from tiny islands to enormous countries, and each paraded into the stadium behind their flag, badminton player Nathan Robertson given the honour of holding the standard of St George for England.

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Amongst the competitors in England's team is disabled archer Danielle Brown, 26, from Lothersdale in North Yorkshire who suffers from a neurological condition which affects her lower limbs and will become the first Paralympian to represent England in an able-bodied event.

England's oldest competitor Mick Gault, 56, is a shooting specialist who is hoping to break the record for the biggest haul of Commonwealth medals.

He has 15 and is taking part in eight events at the Games and needs just four podium finishes to pass the previous milestone.

Olympics and Sports Minister Hugh Robertson anticipates the Delhi Commonwealth Games will be a monumental success which could pave the way for the Olympic and Paralympic Games to be hosted in India.

Speaking ahead of opening ceremony Mr Robertson insisted the troubled build up to the XIX Commonwealth Games would soon be a distant memory.