By Duncan Mackay in Singapore
British Sports Internet Writer of the Year

August 14 - The inaugural Youth Olympic Games officially opened here tonight with a ceremony on the world's largest floating stage and an extravagant firework display.

After a day of heavy showers, the rain stopped for the official opening by Singapore President S.R. Nathan on the floating stage in Marina Bay, which will later host some cycling events.

Young drummers and dancers performed by the ceremony, watched by an enthusiastic crowd of 27,000.

The Olympic flame was carried to the stage by a large dragon boat and lit by 16-year-old sailing competitor Darren Choy of Singapore.

Following a two-hour show featuring performances of dancers, singers and displays of fireworks, Nathan officially declared open the Games which bring together some 3,600 of the world's most talented athletes aged 14 to 18.

"We open a new chapter in the history of the Olympic Movement," said Jacques Rogge, the President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

"From this moment on, young people from around the world have a chance to participate in a global event that combines sport, education and culture."

Earlier, Rogge said he had felt like an expectant father before the Games began.

The 12-day event, which will involve 3,500, athletes aged from 14 to 18, competing in 26 Olympic Sports, was the brainchild of Rogge, who hopes it will teach important life and sports skills.

"I feel like a father waiting in the delivery room for the birth to come," said Rogge.

"It is an ambitious project, we approach this with the necessary humility.

"I am very optimistic that this is going to be the start of a long successful series."

The show was tailored for the age group it was addressing and its messages ranged from fairness in competition to combating hunger and disease and promoting world peace.

It also included 54 teenage-oriented multimedia videos specifically produced for the opening ceremony.

The ceremony also featured performances of Malay, Chinese and Indian dancers and singers representing the city-state's multi-racial society and displaying Singapore's history through the ages.

The ceremony marked the first time Olympic athletes were brought into the event early and did not march behind flags of their country.

Spectators were on their feet clapping and cheering when the competitors entered from both sides of the stage of the Marina Bay venue.

This was followed by a thunderous display of drumming, accompanied by myriad dancers of all ages.

A 12-metre tall monster puppet, operated by 20 people, appeared in a show segment depicting the inner fears athletes have to overcome for achieving their goals.

Choy, Singapore's 2010 Sportsboy of the Year, was given the honour of lighting the Youth Olympic flame.

Choy competes in the boys' one-person dinghy event and the 32-metre high cauldron he ignited resembled a lighthouse to symbolise a guiding light that welcomes people to a safe harbour.

"It is an outstanding ceremony," said John Coates, the President of the Australian Olympic Committee (AOC) and a member of the IOC's ruling Executive Board.

"It addresses a lot of challenges the world faces.

"I've seen so many ceremonies but this is one of the best in terms of the age group it's addressing."

Coming from 204 countries and competing over 26 disciplines, including new events like 3-on-3 street basketball, the youngsters will simultaneously participate in wide-ranging educational programmes including workshops on the value of friendship, the dangers of doping and benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

They will have the chance to meet more than 40 past and present Olympic athletes, like Ukrainian world pole vault record-holder legend Sergey Bubka, in the Athlete Role Model programme.

Addressing the athletes, Rogge claimed the Games would help them "learn the difference between winning and being a champion".

"To win, you merely have to cross the finish line," he said.

"To be a champion, you have to inspire admiration for your character, as well as for your physical talent."

As well as Rogge, the ceremony was attended by Singapore Prime Minister Lee Loon Hsien and Youth Olympic Games ambassador Yelena Isinbayeva, the Olympic pole-vault champion and world record-holder.

Other Games ambassadors, 14-time Olympic gold medallist Michael Phelps and world 100 and 200 metres record holder Usain Bolt, sent messages of support that were played on giant video screens.

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