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January 5, 2005

Deaflympics get underway

From: Fox Sports, Australia - Jan 5, 2005

THE biggest Deaflympics in history are officially underway after the Deaf Queen of the Pool, Cindy-Lu Fitzpatrick, today lit the flame to signal the start of the 20th Summer Games in Melbourne.

Fitzpatrick - the winner of 19 Deaflympic gold medals and holder of 12 deaf world records in a 20-year career that ended in 1997 - lit the flame that will blaze at the Olympic Park stadium for the next 12 days as Victoria hosts the largest multi-sport event of the year.

Most of the more than 3600 athletes from 94 countries were at Melbourne's Olympic Park stadium tonight for the twilight opening ceremony, held under threatening grey skies.

France, which hosted the first Deaflympics in 1924, was the first nation to enter the arena.

Australian basketballer Kim Kavanagh carried the national flag to lead the home team into the stadium shortly before 7pm (AEDT).

Kavanagh has been named joint captain of the 228-member Australian team with thrower Dean Barton-Smith, who has come out of retirement for the Games in his home city.

Competition began earlier today when Australia's soccer team threw away a 1-0 lead at half-time to lose 1-3 to Greece.

The Games start in earnest tomorrow with the track and field at Olympic Park.

Australian team spokeswoman Katie Kelly said the home team's strengths were in athletics and swimming.

Australia's best medal prospects include Barton-Smith, who is the deaf world record holder for the javelin with a throw of 70.58 metres, and for the decathlon.

Barton-Smith, from the eastern suburb of Bayswater, has represented his country in three Deaflympics, two Commonwealth Games and the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. He will also compete in the shotput and discus at Melbourne 2005.

High hopes are held for Victorian Joanne Lambert, a five-time Deaflympian with two gold medals at Rome, who holds the deaf world records on the track for the 3000m, 5000m and 10,000m.

Swimmer Scott Prosser, 23, is described as Australia's "secret weapon" in the pool in the 400m freestyle, 100m butterfly and relay events.

Australia is also confident of a track medal from 23-year-old Lara Hollow-Williams, from Coorparoo in Queensland, who competed at last year's Athens Paralympics, and is currently ranked first in the world for the 400m and second for the 200m.

Nineteen-year-old Aleisha Yet Foy, from Queensland, won two golds, a silver and a bronze at the Rome Games in 2001 and was a favourite in the pool for the freestyle events before injuring a shoulder which may hamper her prospects.

Australia's best haul in the Deaflympics was six at Rome in 2001.

"The standard of deaf competition is always improving and becoming more professional, but we're confident of athletes like Scott Prosser and Joanne Lambert and Lara Hollow-Williams performing well and winning medals," Kelly said.

"We'd like to think we can exceed the tally of six in Rome.

"There's so many unknowns in Deaflympics, like how much teams have improved, but we're confident we can match what we achieved in Rome and possibly beat that."

Tonight's opening ceremony featured 1200 performers including Guy Sebastian, Paulini, Sophie Monk, David Campbell, the Deaflympic Signing Choir and hundreds of singers and dancers.

The Games continue until January 16, with events around Melbourne and in the central Victorian city of Ballarat.

The Victorian Government said today that the Games were expected to bring generate more than $19 million for the state's economy.

Copyright 2004 News Limited.