Rain then fireworks kick off Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast
Fireworks explode over Carrara Stadium during the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, Wednesday, April 4, 2018. (AP /Manish Swarup)
Prince Charles, left and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, center, arrive with Aboriginal Elder Ted Williams during the opening ceremony for the 2018 Commonwealth Games at Carrara Stadium on the Gold Coast, Australia, Wednesday, April 4, 2018. (AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Wednesday, April 4, 2018 10:37AM EDT
GOLD COAST, Australia -- Fireworks followed rain Thursday as the 21st Commonwealth Games opened on the Gold Coast complete with a beach party featuring dancing lifeguards and a floating white whale and a musical soundtrack that included a didgeridoo maestro and aboriginal rapper.
Fortunately for the 35,000 spectators at Carrara Stadium, including Prince Charles and wife Camilla, heavy rain stopped a few minutes after the opening ceremony began.
The games draw on 71 nations and territories, some of which likely had many spectators quickly heading to Google to learn more about the likes of Tuvalu, a Polynesian island nation located in the Pacific Ocean midway between Hawaii and Australia.
Canada is a heavy hitter at these games, collecting 82 medals four years ago in Glasgow to finish third behind Australia (137) and England (174). The Canadians hope to win more than 100 medals this time out.
Most Canadians slept through the party, which kicked off at 6 a.m. ET -- 8 p.m. local time. Some of the locals may have wished they were tucked in bed. TV reports told of spectators queuing up for buses to get to the stadium.
The Queen's Baton, the Commonwealth Games' version of the Olympic flame, came into the stadium with eight-time Olympic and 15 Commonwealth Games swim medallist Susie O'Neill, nicknamed "Madame Butterfly."
She handed it off to a series of Australian sports stars, from netball to field hockey, with former Olympic sprint champion Sally Pearson the final recipient. Scotland's Louise Martin, president of the Commonwealth Games Federation and a former swim competitor in Perth at the 1962 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, dug out the message from within to end a 388-day journey that took the baton around the globe to every Commonwealth nation and territory.
Forrest talked up the games, calling the Commonwealth a vast global family of 2.4 billion people "more relevant than ever before." She also cited the games' medal gender equality, its reconciliation action plan recognizing the first nations of the entire Commonwealth, and its expanded para-sports program.
Prince Charles then did the honours.
"It now gives me the greatest pleasure to declare the 21st Commonwealth Games open," he said.
Aussie pop star Delta Goodrem followed, singing "Welcome to Earth."
The ceremony started with a rapid-fire countdown starting 65,000 years ago before quickly telling the story of Australia's creation as the earth shifted. Artistic director David Zolkwer used the stadium infield like a high-tech whiteboard, turning it into the galaxy and then a beach with waves coming in.
William Barton dazzled with the didgeridoo while Torres Strait rapper Mau Power and singer Christine Anu delivered a powerful version of "My Island Home."
It was one big party for the 6,600 athletes and officials, many of whose countries opted for colourful beach attire.
The competing nations were introduced by members of City of Gold Cast Lifeguards, located in a lifeguard tower in the stadium. Each team was preceded by a so-called Nipper, part of a junior lifeguard program aged five to 14, complete with a surf board emblazoned with the country's name.
After the European and African countries, a smiling Meaghan Benfeito carried Canadian colours into the stadium as the third entry in the Americas bloc. The 29-year-old diver from Montreal is a two-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist and three-time Olympic bronze medallist.
Not all of the Canadian team took part. Some athletes, like the men's and women's rugby sevens squads and some of the track and field team, have yet to arrive. The basketball teams are based some distance away in Cairns and Townsville.
Some athletes competing the next day, like the swimmers and triathletes, also skipped the event.
But a Canadian team official said badminton, boxing, diving, field hockey, gymnastics, lawn bowls, squash, shooting, table tennis and weightlifting were all represented.
The Parade of Nations spanned the generations. Northern Ireland features David Calvert, a 67-year-old shooter at his 11th Commonwealth Games. The Wales team includes 11-year-old table tennis prodigy Anna Hursey.
After the athletes entered, Peter Beattie, chairman of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Corporation, took the podium.
"Australians are warm and fun-loving people, We judge others by what's in their hearts, not where they come from," said the former Queensland premier. "Because in the end we all share the same place.
"These games allow us to issue an invitation to the world to visit and experience true hospitality. Because we are the friendliest people on this planet ... Enjoy your time with us in Queensland. Beautiful one day, perfect the next."
Canadian Nicole Forrester, a high jumper who won bronze in the 2002 games and gold in 2010, was one of six recent appointees to the Commonwealth Games Federation athlete advisory commission to carry in the CGF flag during the ceremonies
Scotland, as the host of the last Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014, had the first athletes enter the stadium in the Parade of Nations. Host Australia came last.
The games end April 15.
A small group of Indigenous protesters blocked a Gold Coast road, bringing a temporary halt to the Queen's Baton Relay on its final day. The group of approximately 30 people lined up in nearby Southport, leaving the relay staff and baton runners stranded in a parking lot. After approximately an hour, organizers resumed the final leg of the relay. The baton is due at the stadium for the opening ceremony Wednesday night.
The protesters, calling themselves the "Stolenwealth Games," are using the Gold Coast games to highlight their "anti-colonial activity and authority views." Queensland police acknowledged the group's right to protest, saying: "Should any activities occur during a protest which pose a risk to the safety or enjoyment of the Commonwealth Games, the (police) will respond accordingly."
About 100 Aboriginal protesters later moved to the stadium just before the opening ceremony began.
The first gold medallist of the games will likely be the winner of the women's triathlon on Thursday, with two-time world champion Flora Duffy of Bermuda the favourite. Joanna Brown of Carp, Ont., is Canada's leading contender in the race.
But Australian boxer Taylah Robertson ensured the first medal of the Commonwealth Games without setting foot in the ring. The 19-year-old Robertson was the beneficiary of a lucky draw in the women's 51-kilogram division and is guaranteed at least a bronze medal.
Only seven boxers entered the competition, so three bouts will be contested as quarterfinals, with Robertson receiving a direct passage to the last four. Both losers of the semifinals win bronze medals. The boxing program starts Thursday.