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Commonwealth Games special because they’re unique

Published: 
Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Commonwealth Games 2014

What started under perfect blue skies ended, more appropriately for a city nicknamed Rain Town, with torrential storms.

The 11 Glaswegian days in between were similarly in character—sometimes noisy, sometimes controversial, but seldom dull.

Commonwealth Games often begin as apologetic events. There is as much talk about what they’re not—principally the Olympics, but also uniformly world class, or the most important event in that year’s sporting calendar—than what they could be.

For them to feel successful they need three things: big names, big performances and big crowds.

Glasgow had all three. In doing so it confirmed something else about the Commonwealth Games: that what makes them special is precisely the fact they aren’t like anything else.

So it was that the most memorable performances came as much from unknowns as the superstars. For every gold medal won by Olympic champions such as Kirani James, Alistair Brownlee and Anna Meares, new names emerged who could only have been brought forth by a Commonwealths.

There was 16-year-old gymnast Claudia Fragapane—4ft 5in, hoping merely to make a few finals, leaving as the first Englishwoman to win four gold medals at a single Games in 84 years.

There was Ross Murdoch, overshadowed by poster-boy favourite Michael Jamieson before their 200m breaststroke final, a new Scottish hero after it, having not only snatched gold but done so by improving his personal best over the day by six seconds.

No wonder he swore afterwards. And there was rhythmic gymnast Frankie Jones, almost singlehandedly dispelling the pre-Games gloom about Wales’ medal prospects by winning five of them on her own and another as part of the team, which won silver.

There were also great contests. South Africa handed New Zealand their first defeat in Commonwealth rugby sevens. 

Australia’s women stole hockey gold from England by equalising in the last ten seconds and then polishing them off on penalties. A far smaller distance separated gold and silver in the men’s 10,000m won by Moses Kipsiro than in the 100m strolled by Kemar Bailey-Cole.

The loudest noise of the Games came when Hampden Park roared Lynsey Sharp to 800m silver after she had spent the previous night in the clinic in the athletes’ village, drip in arm and vomit in mouth. 

A day later, England’s Jo Pavey fought her way to 5,000m bronze less than ten months after giving birth to her second child. In a month’s time she will turn 41.

A Commonwealths can sometimes feel like the FA Cup to the Champions League that is the Olympics—bolstered by its long history as much as its future, defined by the quirky and the outsider, weakened by big boys putting out weaker teams.

Kenya’s Vincent Onyangi had never swum in open water before diving into Strathclyde Loch for the triathlon. Twenty minutes later he was bobbing around doing breaststroke while the leaders were onto their bikes.

It also had its tear-jerkers: Scotland’s Euan Burton coming out of retirement to fight his way to judo gold, two years and two weight categories on from losing in his first bout at London 2012; Jazz Carlin becoming Wales’ first female swimming gold medallist in 40 years, having missed the Olympics through illness; 13-year-old Shetland islander Erraid Davies, trained in a 16m pool, winning SB9 100m breaststroke bronze and celebrating with the best smile of the fortnight.

Her fellow teen, Nigerian weightlifter Chika Amalaha, provided one of the darker moments when a failed drugs test led to her being stripped of her 58kg title. Former 400m world champion Amantle Montsho was another thrown out of the Games for doping. Welsh team captain Rhys Williams failed to even make it to Scotland after news of his own positive test at the Glasgow Grand Prix on July 11.

Glasgow 2014 facts

Almost 3.5 million people passed through the city’s Central Station

More than 50,000 cuddly Clyde Mascots were sold

1.2 million tickets were sold

An estimated 100 tonnes of fruit and vegetables were consumed

171,000 people attended the Rugby Sevens—a record for the sport