The Minsk 2019 European Games got officially under way here tonight with a sumptuous Opening Ceremony at which, for all the forecasts of storms, not a drop of rain fell.
Alexander Lukashenko, President of Belarus, stepped up to deliver a concluding speech after a finely-wrought and beautifully-staged two-hour celebration of his country’s traditions, artists and aspirations.
"Here comes the time of bright victories," he said.
"In the hospitable land of Belarus, we are opening the second European Games.
"Today we will light the Flame of Peace.
"Such moments unite nations.
"Let us fight for the title of the most powerful nation in this way – through sport.
"I declare the second European Games open."
The evening finished with Torches being borne by seven of Belarus’ most revered sporting figures – Darya Domracheva, four-times Olympic biathlon champion, Alexei Grishin, Olympic freestyle skiing champion, Max Mirnyi, Olympic tennis champion, Yulia Nesterenko, Athens 2004 100m champion, Roman Petrushenko, Olympic canoe sprint champion, Nadezhda Skardino, Olympic relay champion, and Dmitri Dovgalenok, Olympic canoe sprint champion.
The septet made their way to the top of a curved stairway and applied their Torches to rockets which flared across and ignited the cauldron with the Flame of Peace.
Janez Kocijančič, European Olympic Committees President, had previously addressed the stadium, saying: “Thank you very much for your hospitality and friendship.
“This is the biggest multi-sport event in the history of Belarus.
“We sincerely hope these Games will open up your beautiful country and present its image to the European and world public.”
The Oaths – a solemn promise made by one athlete, one judge and one coach – were taken by wrestler Vasilisa Marzaliuk, Artur Fando and Olga Vlasova, head coach of the Belarus trampolining team.
The EOC flag was then raised, having been carried in by another contingent of Belarus sporting legends.
They numbered Elena Belova, four-times Olympic fencing champion, Igor Makarov, Olympic judo champion in Athens 2004, Nikolay Kozeko, the freestyle skiing coach who has produced winners of seven Olympic medals, Alexandr Romankov, fencing champion at the Seoul 1988 Olympics, Alla Tsuper, Sochi 2014 aerial skiing champion, and Yanina Karolchyk-Pravalinskaya, 2000 Olympic and 2001 world shot put champion.
The final section of the Ceremony had begun with a video message from the United Nations secretary general António Gutérres, who welcomed the participants and spectators.
All 50 nations had paraded in hearty and boisterous fashion, with many athletes demonstrating their elite ability to take selfie footage, including at least one employing a selfie stick.
But there was at least one element of regret as Kosovo’s flag was carried by boxer Donjeta Sadiku who had become a late stand-in when the unfortunate Akil Gjakova, originally scheduled for the honour, had been unable to arrive in time because of a delayed flight.
Once settled in the arena, the athletes joined spectators in witnessing a rich musical and pictorial celebration of Belarus history and tradition.
While no rain fell, there was an early suggestion the Ceremony might be suffering from mental fatigue as the hosts spent a goodly amount of time trying to talk a stadium full of folk through the downloading of an app that allowed their smartphones to register augmented reality features when pointed at images displayed.
Let’s hope it worked. But the crowds appeared more than happy activating their glowing wristbands and taking part in the swaying and clapping suggested to them by the young volunteers infield.
Half an hour after it was all over, the rain arrived…