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    Birmingham sparkles as Commonwealth Games open to strains of Duran Duran

    BIRMINGHAM (AFP) – British pop giants Duran Duran headlined a glitzy Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Birmingham on Thursday as more than 5,000 athletes braced for battle.

    Competitors from 72 nations and territories, many of which are former British colonies, will be vying for medals in 19 sports over a jam-packed 11 days in the English Midlands.

    The opening ceremony at the revamped Alexander Stadium paid tribute to the industrial heritage of the city and celebrated the diversity of its modern make-up.

    Prince Charles arrived with his wife Camilla in his personal Aston Martin during a segment highlighting Birmingham’s rich history of motor manufacturing.

    Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, who moved to the city after surviving a Pakistani Taleban assassination attempt when she was 15, said every child deserves the chance to “pursue her wildest dreams”.

    Prince Charles declared the Games open as Duran Duran got the party started to a backdrop of fireworks across the city.

    Away from the marquee athletics and swimming events, women’s Twenty20 cricket makes its debut at the 22nd Games and 3×3 basketball will feature for the first time.

    Brunei Darussalam national athletes take part in the opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games at the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham, central England. PHOTO: AFP
    Lorell Boyce sits atop the ‘Raging bull’ during the opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. PHOTO: AFP

    There is an integrated para sports programme in some events in Birmingham, which stepped in for the South African city of Durban, originally chosen to host the Games.

    Sporting powerhouse Australia have topped the medals table at every Games since 1990 except in 2014, when England finished top in Glasgow – the last time the event was held on British soil.

    England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland compete as separate teams during the Commonwealths rather than as a combined British outfit.

    In the pool, Emma McKeon, Ariarne Titmus, Kaylee McKeown and teenage sensation Mollie O’Callaghan led the charge for a star-studded Australian team when competition began yesterday.

    Double Olympic champion Titmus, 21, opted out of the recent world championships in Budapest to keep herself fresh for Birmingham.

    McKeon, 28, who won seven medals – including four golds – at last year’s Olympics in Tokyo, boasts a phenomenal Commonwealth Games record, with eight gold and four bronze medals in two appearances.

    Headlining for England will be breaststroke superstar Adam Peaty, who missed Budapest with a foot injury, denying him the chance to claim his fourth consecutive 50 metres (m) to 100m world double.

    Peaty, 27, is determined to break his own 100m world record of 56.88 seconds.

    “I wouldn’t be swimming now if I knew I couldn’t break a world record again,” he said. “It’s just not enough for me to stay in the sport and win and win and win.”

    The Commonwealth Games come hot on the heels of the world athletics championships in Eugene, Oregon, which only finished on Sunday.

    The worlds were rescheduled from last year after the coronavirus pandemic forced a delay to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics but that has created a headache for athletes in a crowded schedule.

    Olympic champions Andre De Grasse, Kirani James and Neeraj Chopra will be absent from Birmingham.

    Jamaican sprint star Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who won a fifth 100m world title in Oregon, will also be missing.

    Shericka Jackson and Elaine Thompson-Herah, who finished second and third in the 100m in Eugene, have been named in Jamaica’s team, though there are doubts over whether multiple Olympic champion Thompson-Herah will travel.

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