GUADALAJARA, Mexico -- The sound of Mexico's famous mariachis filled the air Friday at the opening ceremony of the Pan American Games, signaling the start of the 2½-week competition -- Mexico's biggest undertaking on the international sports stage since the 1986 World Cup.
Tradition set the backdrop for much of the ceremony, which opened with women wearing colorful dresses dancing to the sound of brass and strings with Mexican vaqueros -- or cowboys -- riding their mounts at a quick gallop around the center of the Omnilife Stadium, the home of local soccer club Chivas.
The opening ceremony was in doubt until Friday after heavy rain from Hurricane Jova battered Guadalajara. But the sun broke through early in the day -- surely a giant relief for organizers.
The parade of the 42 nations began with Argentina and ended with Uruguay, Venezuela and host nation Mexico, which received a giant ovation. So did recording artist Vicente Fernandez, who sang the country's national anthem.
The Mexican delegation entered wearing giant white sombreros and white tops with black trousers for the men and black skirts for the women.
The array of celebrities in attendance ranged from Mexican president Felipe Calderon and International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge to soccer star Rafael Marquez and famous Mexican boxer Julio Cesar Chavez.
Calderon opened the games, standing behind a podium and reading his script in Spanish.
"With the certainty that these games symbolize a fraternal union, peace and the prosperity that we wish for all people of the Americas, I solemnly open the 16th Pan American Games," Calderon said.
The cauldron was lit by Paola Espinosa, who won a diving bronze medal three years ago at the Beijing Olympics.
Enriqueta Basilio, who lit the torch in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, was the first in a chain of former Olympians to carry the torch inside the stadium, completing the final handoff to Espinosa.
The Pan American Games are a quadrennial event held the year before the Olympics. The United States, which has entered more than 600 athletes, has traditionally dominated the games. More than 6,000 athletes will compete with many of the events offering automatic qualification to next year's London Olympics.
The United States leads the overall medal count in the Pan American Games with 1,769 gold medals and 3,938 overall. Cuba is next with 781 gold and 1,796 overall.