NEW DELHI – These Commonwealth Games lurched towards the start line – and at times looked like they wouldn't make it -- but oh they put on quite a finishing kick.
The closing ceremonies didn't quite match the spectacular opening 12 days ago that helped start turning this Titanic of an event around, but it was still a rockin' affair and a fitting climax to an event that might one day be looked upon as the launching of India as a sports nation.
The theme of the closing ceremonies scripted by filmmaker Barat Bhala was universal love, the fellowship of some 7,000 athletes from 71 countries brought together, and they came out en masse together in a parade of nations at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
Some of Bollywood's greatest stars broke out into a couple of Queen hits – We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions – towards the end of the ceremonies as the airostat that also hung over the stadium during the opening ceremonies flashed a laser show.
Delhi passed the baton to Glasgow, the next host in 2014, and the Glaswegians seemed to pull out every cliche you ever heard/thought about Scotland. Kilts, bagpipes, the Loch Ness Monster ...
Mike Fennell, chairman of the Commonwealth Games Federation who had battled with the local organizers, paid the event the highest compliment.
“Delhi, you have delivered a truly exceptional Games,” said Fennell. “And above all, a wonderful experience for us all.”
Games chairman Suresh Kalmadi, blamed for all that went wrong leading to the event, was booed everytime he appeared during the ceremonies. Now that this gig is over, what's next for Kalmadi? Buying your gold on TV?
Canadian cyclist Tara Whitten, a modest sort with lightning in her legs who won one gold and three bronze, had just enough energy left to carry the Maple Leaf into the stadium, accompanied by her two appointed “athletes of honour,” wrestler Ohenewa Akuffo of Brampton and weightlifter Christine Girard, also gold medalists at the Games.
“I'm kind of thinking they picked a weightlifter and a wrestler for extra security,” joked Akuffo at a news conference earlier in the day.
Security, tight throughout the Games, was ramped up even higher for the closing ceremonies as there was a reported threat from a Pakistani-based terrorist group.
As the 2010 Vancouver Olympics did to Canada, these Games provided so many memorable moments for India.
The Indian women's 4 x 400 metre relay team, unheard of until these Games, delivered what might have been the most dramatic. To give it something of a Canadian equivalent, it was like Simon Whitfield winning gold in triathlon at the 2000 Sydney Olympics – no one saw it coming but it was so inspiring when it did.
Manjeet Kaur, Sini Jose, Ashwini Akkunji and Mandeep Kaur had the legs that night, but it was the deafening roar from a jam-packed Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium that gave them wings. And little girls across India have a new set of heroes to look up to.
I'd like to say thanks to the tireless volunteers who were the key in India being able to pull this off. They did things like provide their cellphone numbers to reporters in case they ever got into a jam. When your auto rickshaw driver gets lost, who you gonna call? Charu at the help desk. At least 12 different times in my case. Her directions always got you where you wanted to go.
There was a small thing that struck Whitten as a metaphor for the Games. As the world champion cyclist checked in for the road race, she noticed some members of the Kenyan team were ill-equipped and had to use mountain bike shoes and pedals.
“I just thought there's something special about these Games here where we have the best in the world here -- for the time trial, we had two of the top three from the world championships -- but we also had countries where cycling isn't a big sport and they're sending teams and they get to experience this as well,” said Whitten. “So it kind of covers this broad range and we're all competing together and it's a great experience.”
The Canadian athletes seemed unanimous and sincere in describing it as a great experience.
A poster hung in the main press centre featuring the official mascot Shera, a royal bengal, paws pressed together in the namaste pose with the words: Where, for every Indian, the guest is god; and where every visitor is welcomed with warmth and respect.
It wasn't lip service.