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Congress president Sonia Gandhi declared the 33rd National Games open here Friday evening amid clamorous cheering from the 30,000-strong crowd at the Indira Gandhi Athletics Stadium. For once the rejuvenated spirit of the culturally vibrant state of Assam came to the fore, brushing aside the recent orgies of bloodbath by a separatist group, as it showcased snippets from its vast heritage reservoir. The weather that had threatened to play spoilsport also gave way. Nothing could deter the spirit of the spectators and participants – not even a bomb blast that rocked a railway station in the morning. With a cool breeze blowing across the stadium, in the Sarsujai Sports Complex, host Assam was fortunate to have a perfect setting for the evening, which saw the nation’s largest sports festival colourfully open.
In his speech, a proud Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, recollected the difficulties that the state had faced in the run up to the games. “Today is a red letter in the history of Assam and an epoch-event that is going to put the state in the sports map of the country. In spite of our financial constraints, floods, insurgency, we have overcome all hurdles on the way to organise this mega sporting event,” he said. Noted Assamese singer Khagen Mahanta and his troupe presented the welcome song and it was followed by colourful dance by the local school children. Assam’s classical dance form, the Sattriya and the vivacious Bihu dance, were also presented in their splendid best.
The stadium literally went up to a hysterical height of exhilaration when the cute mascot Rongmon, the rhinoceros, entered the stadium to take the centre stage accompanied by 100 little girls. The mascot also responded back to the cheering crowd by waving its hand and blowing away a series of flying kisses. Rongmon’s entry was one of the much-awaited moments for the spectators. The Indian Air Force participated in the gala event from the skies as three MI-17 helicopters displayed a fly past enthralling the spectators with petal showers from a height of about 3,000 feet.
The spectators warmly greeted the paratroopers as they landed on the ground. The paratroopers jumped from a height of 7,000 feet and formed different formations including that of the tricolour. The team march past took place with Andaman and Nicobar leading the way with hosts Assam in the last. Arjuna awardee and Asian Games gold medallist Bhogeshwar Barua lit the games torch. Union Home minister Shivraj Patil and Indian Olympic Association Suresh Kalmadi were present on the occasion.
 

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