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England Prepares to Host Commonwealth Games - 2002-07-24

Some 4,000 athletes from 72 nations are set to compete in the 17th Commonwealth Games beginning Thursday in Manchester, England.

Manchester lost out to Atlanta and then Sydney in failed bids to host the 1996 and then the 2000 Olympics. The city is determined that by hosting the Commonwealth Games it can prove it is able to stage a world class multi-sport event. This will be the biggest one ever held in Britain.

Approximately $1.6 billion have been invested in the city since 1996 when a massive Irish Republican Army truck bomb ripped out the heart of its center. Now, Manchester expects to attract more than one million visitors from all corners of the Commonwealth, mostly former British colonies, for these games that run July 25-August 4.

Commonwealth Games Press Officer David Williams told VOA Sports the City of Manchester Stadium will be the centerpiece for the games, which features sports like field hockey, gymnastics, squash, table tennis and boxing.

"It's a 38,000-seat stadium that's been built for the Commonwealth Games and at the close of the games it will be handed over to Manchester City football club who will then be its tenants for the next 25 years," he said. "Magnificent stadium and many people here have been very, very impressed with how it looks. And I must admit we are quite proud to have a stadium like that in Manchester."

Williams would not reveal anything about the opening ceremonies other than that the Queen will attend and that it would be a huge celebration. The only competition scheduled for Thursday is men's and women's diving.

Williams said that all six nights of track and field competition is sold out and there are few tickets remaining for the day sessions. Events such as gymnastics, squash, badminton and table tennis sold out shortly after tickets went on sale.

Williams said security will be tight, but that's to be expected.

"We have told people that they will probably have security checks more than they'd had if they were going to watch Manchester United [football team] or various other week in and week out sporting events. People have been very understanding," he admitted. "There might be bigger queues and we've told people to expect to take longer to get into the stadium. But in light of what happened in those unfortunate incidents last year [September 11], as with any other sporting events, we have re-addressed our security and we're confident we have the measures in place to assure a safe Commonwealth Games."

For the first time, the games will include elite disabled athletes integrated in the main program, with 200 of them competing in ten events and having their medals counted in the overall totals.

One of the biggest spotlights will be on swimming where Australian superstar Ian Thorpe has the potential to emerge as the games' outstanding individual. He will try to defend four Commonwealth Games titles and will aim for seven gold medals in all.

Top British athletes competing include Jonathan Edwards, the Olympic, world champion and world record holder in the triple jump, and Colin Jackson, the world record holder in the 110-meter hurdles who is aiming for his third Commonwealth gold medal in the event. Unlike the Olympics or European championships, British athletes will face one another in the colors of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.