Friday, October 30, 2009

Queen’s Baton Relay Raises Curtain On 2010 Delhi Games

Few days before the Queen’s Baton Relay (QBR) started its journey of 190,000 km over 340 days across 70 member nations, Abhinav Bindra had met Sania Mirza and few others over dinner on a chilly night, few yards away from the Buckingham Palace.

They discussed some commonplace things before Mirza asked Bindra: ‘‘You are going to be the first baton-bearer on October 29. What’s going through your mind?’’ Bindra, by his own admission, had turned a touch nostalgic while answering: ‘‘You know I came to London often as a kid with my parents and without fail we would go to Buckingham Palace like all others. I cried to my dad every time I went there since I hated the fact that they wouldn’t let me inside the gate,’’ recollected Bindra.

At a gala Indian ceremony on Thursday, in central London, the black and gold coloured gates of the Palace were thrown open cordially and with much fanfare for Bindra & Co for the launch of the CWG QBR. ‘‘I’ve been associated with Commonwealth Games for the last 15-years. I participated in CWG as a 13-year-old and had also watched the baton relay then. I was smitten by all the hoopla surrounding it and I wanted to be a part of it. Needless to say, it was a dream come true for me to be part of this showcase event and to be the first one to be carrying the baton,’’ Bindra told TOI from London, after the ceremony.

The curtain-raiser to the New Delhi Games was launched by Queen Elizabeth II when she handed over the baton to Indian President Pratibha Patil after writing a message to the athletes engraved on a miniature 18-carat gold leaf currently in a jewellery box inside the baton. The President handed it over to the sports minister MS Gill, who gave it to the CWG organizing committee chairman Suresh Kalmadi. Kalmadi then handed it over to Bindra, the first of the 14 athletes who began the baton relay. ‘‘I’ve also run the Olympic baton relay in Delhi but the feeling was not the same. With all the Tibetan issue then, I had found it highly stressful to carry the baton, I couldn’t enjoy it. Over here it was fun,’’ said Bindra. Running with the baton outside the Palace were Bindra, former British runner Sebastian Coe, former Indian captain Kapil Dev, Sania Mirza, Milkha Singh, British runner Kelly Holmes, England cricketer Monty Panesar, boxer Vijender Kumar, squash player Misha Soni, wrestler Sushil Kumar, British wheelchair table tennis player Susan Gilroy, weightlifter Karnam Malleshwari, hockey star Dilip Tirkey and decathlete Gurbachan Singh Randhawa. They were cheered by hundreds of people who lined the gates of Buckingham Palace. The baton was carried to the Queen Victoria Memorial and The Mall in central London, before making its way to Trafalgar Square.

By the end of this epic journey, it will have travelled for 340 days and covered more than 190,000 km, passing through the hands of thousands of individuals across land, air, sea and on many different modes of transport — from bicycle and boat to hot air balloon, steam train and even an elephant. It will enter India from the Wagah border on June 25 and end at the opening ceremony at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Oct 3, where athletes will be read out the Queen’s message.

Shortly before the start of the baton relay, while the Indian musicians and dancers performed at the forecourt of the Palace, it suddenly occurred to Bindra that he had forgotten something. ‘‘All my life I’ve been waiting for this day to get inside the gate of the Palace and today I was ill-prepared,” confessed Bindra. Bindra had forgotten to pack in a black tie in his suitcase for the blacktie dinner with the Queen later in the evening.