It's Only the Commonwealths

Friday, March 17, 2006

The Commonwealth Games – ‘diet Olympics’ to tide us over between the proper games – kicked off in Melbourne this week. There are several differences between these and the Olympic games: the countries that take part must be part of the Commonwealth, British competitors represent their home regions instead of Great Britain, some of the Olympic events aren’t included in the programme, and some events that don’t feature in the Olympics have pride of place in the Commonwealth games (rugby sevens, for example).

Without doubt, the athletes take these games very seriously – apart from anything else, the opportunity to compete in a games on this scale can only benefit athletes preparing for the Olympics in 2008 – but they’re just not the same.

It was summed up for me in a TV interview I saw with Chris Hoy a few nights ago. He said all the right things throughout the interview until the very end.

“You just hope that all your training will stand you in good stead. You hope to remain calm enough to get out there and perform like you know you can on the night. The last thing you want is to freeze up on the night when this is something you’ve been training for… for four years… effectively.”

That stray “effectively” gave him, and the importance of these games, away. He won the Olympic gold medal in the one kilometre time trial in the velodrome in Athens two years ago. Try as he might to convince us that he has been training for the Commonwealth title for four years, I’m fairly sure that three years ago, when he was getting up early and training his massive heart out all day, it was Athens 2004, not Melbourne 2006, he was thinking of when he was pushing through the pain barrier.

Further testament came after he eventually finished third in the 1km time trial. He was interviewed again, still slightly out of breath from his race. He gave it his all, he said. He couldn’t have asked for more, he said. He felt he did a good time for the conditions and was happy enough with his performance, he said. He didn’t say he wasn’t that bothered and that it was a good building block for the Olympics in two year’s time, but he might as well have done.

Jason Queally was similarly magnanimous having finished second. Himself a former Olympic gold medallist and world champion, he seemed remarkably full of smiles for a man who had just had to settle for his third Commonwealth silver in a row.

They both praised the winner and said they were happy for him. It was hard not to be.

Australian Ben Kersten, having ridden third from last and taken the lead in front of a home crowd, could only sit and watch as the former Olympic and world champion (Queally) and then the reigning Olympic champion (Hoy) tried to better his time. When neither could, Kersten was rendered prostrate on the ground in floods of joyful tears.

And therein lies my problem with the Commonwealth Games – they seemingly mean so much to some, while meaning much less to others. As delighted as I was to see the Australian’s reaction, there was still a bit of me whispering silently at the television “Calm down, mate; it’s only the Commonwealths.”

Having said all that, of course I’ve been glued to the TV since they started and will continue to be at every opportunity until they finish.

The Commonwealth Games always produce some wonderful stories and impressive feats - in beating England in the final to win the rugby sevens gold medal this morning, New Zealand maintained a remarkable unbeaten record in the history of that sport’s involvement in the games – and as cynical as I may sound about how important they are, for many young athletes (like Ben Kersten), this will be their first and biggest taste of a games of any sort.

They are special in their own way and, if they do nothing else, they highlight by way of contrast just how important the Olympics are.

For someone from Britain (or perhaps, in the spirit of the Commonwealth Games I should say ‘Northern Ireland’), another highlight is that when someone from the English team wins a gold medal, we don’t have to sit through that dreadful dirge of an anthem that entreats a God who has better things to do to save a woman who should be more than wealthy enough to be looking after herself.

Land of Hope and Glory is vastly superior, even if the ending sounds like it should segue into the theme from Star Wars.


My own athletic prowess has not improved any since last I wrote. I only have a few more days to wait before I finally get the surgery I need to fix my knee. A couple of weeks more taking it easy after that and then hopefully I'll be back to some kind of training in April.

On the plus side, I heard from one of the cyclists interviewed in Melbourne that he finds it extremely beneficial to his training to sleep for 12 hours a day. All this time I've been half an Olympic cyclist and I never knew it.


Anonymous said...

Good luck with the knee surgery. Lets hope you spring out of the JR able to 'run at tremendous speed and make great leaps' just as Steve Austin could after his bionic implants.

John said...

Run at tremendous speed and make great leaps, but always in slow motion to a dodgy soundtrack.

I'll settle for running at all and leave the leaping until later.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget to remove the flippers before you jump onto the operating table.
Such "impressive feats" !!

Will Clapton said...

John, I read your comments about the Commonwealth Games the other day and they stuck in my mind this past week. I've had the last couple of days off work with flu (which you may or may not know, depending how quickly you got back to work after your knee operation - I hope it went smoothly by the way), so I've had the opportunity to watch countless hours of the Games.

My thoughts on the Commonwealths have gone from "Who cares?" to "For the love of God, please tell me that the ladies won at least a bonze medal in the basketball, PLEASE?!" (they did, by the way).

One thing bothers me though (and this isn't a criticism of the Commonwealth Games but, rather, the heptathlon): an English lady won gold in the heptathlon despite not winning a single event. That's like a school kid getting all Cs at GCSEs and being named "Student of the Year" over the kid who got five As and 5 Ds. Ok, a poor analogy. But I dislike the heptathlon because it rewards mediocrity. Congratulations, English lady, you are a true jack-of-all-trades master-of-none. Here's your medal.

(I wouldn't be nearly so cynical if I hadn't witnessed her attempts at throwing a javelin. Comical. And yes, I do realise she can probably still throw it ten times further than me. But that's why I write about rubber for a living while she doesn't.)

Some other observations:

- I am going to start a Gail Emms fan club. She may have bad teeth and chubby thighs, but I can look past that. I swear she wins her games just by wooing her male opponent into submission.

- Netball ("basketball without the fun") is actually a good sport to watch, partly because England are so good at it.

- England's basketball team is a joke. When your best player is a 37 year old who can't run, you know you're in trouble. Thankfully we have a couple of current NBA players who will hopefully play for us in the Olympics.

In conclusion, yes, the Commonwealths are a poor man's Olympics, but they still make for great television.

Especially when you're off work with the flu and the Budget is the only TV alternative.

Amateur said...

Oh happy day, it's Friday ... oh crap, that's the same post I read last week.

At least Will Clapton had time to write us a nice long comment. (There are English players in the NBA!??!)

I hope the surgery went well!

Will said...

After re-reading my post, I think I must have been rather bored yesterday.

The Chicago Bulls have two players eligible to play for England. Former NCAA champion and Bulls' top scorer Ben Gordon, along with 20-year-old Luol Deng. Both are exciting prospects who are already doing well in the NBA after just two seasons.

Deng grew up in Brixton before going to play in the States at the age of 15. Gordon was born in London but moved to New York at a very young age. Therefore, of the two, it's more likely that Deng will play for England at some point.

Hopefully John will return to his blog in time to save you from any more boring basketball facts from yours truly.

John said...

Amateur - you had to ask him, didn't you...

Will - why can't you write such concise, clear copy when I'm editing what you're writing about? Sadly, what you've written (about the heptathlon especially - we will have nothing but the highest praise and admiration for Kelly Sotherton around here) is misguided nonsense, but your usual array of grammatical catalcysms are largely absent.

Amateur said...

Here are a few inflammatory comments on the subject from a friendly American.