Sebastian Coe on who to watch out for in the upcoming ‘Friendly Games’. Read his monthly column, as featured in the Country & Town House April issue…
As the 71 commonwealth nations and dependencies head to Australia Gold Coast this month for the 22nd edition of what, since 1978, is simply known as the Commonwealth Games, maybe need a little bit of supplementary reading. My recommendation is a nugget of a book written by Brian Oliver one of Fleet Street’s better former sports editors. His opening sentence probably best captures the essence of this multisport event. The Commonwealth Games, he writes, ‘are something of an oddity in the world of modern sport’. He is right.
Affectionately referred to as the ‘friendly games’, they have grown from humble origins. Eleven countries and barely 400 competitors across six sports featured in the inaugural games in Hamilton in Canada in 1930. This year, Down Under there will be 5,000 competitors who at this very moment are in the final lap of their preparation.
Friendly games they may be but don’t let this mask the intensity of competition. In athletics, winning a commonwealth title in the sprints or middle and long distance events with the power house of the Jamaican sprint factory and Kenya’s strangle-hold over pretty much every distance above 800m (both men and women), is no walk in the park. And there’s not much that matches the host nation’s passion for swimming (Ian Thorpe, one of Australia’s finest, bagged 10 gold medals in his Commonwealth career). The Gold Coast is also set to break records away from the field of play. The Queen’s Baton Relay, which is always ushered on its way by her Majesty from Buckingham Palace, will cover a greater distance and over a longer period than any relay before – some 230,000km just shy of 400 days.
The Commonwealth Games have an affectionate place in the world of sport. Yes, some of that sport is quirky, like lawn bowls. But netball and Rugby Sevens will be big ticket items, the latter always adding to the party atmosphere. And all are sports that our four competing home nations (no Team GB here) will hope to do well at.
Track and field sits centre stage. Some of the sport’s most illustrious sons and daughters have charged their way onto the international scene through these games. In 1954, in Vancouver, Sir Roger Bannister’s titanic struggle with Australian John Landy has ever since been known as the miracle mile. At its best the mile is the perfect four-act play. Bannister, having trailed the Australian for the bulk of the race, sailed past in the last few strides.
A few on the track to watch this year. The big pull will be local hero Sally Pearson who took the World Championships crown in London last year over the 100 metre hurdles. She is the reigning Olympic champ again from London and will be looking for her third Commonwealth Games title in front of her home crowd. It will also be interesting to see whether Katarina Johnson-Thompson, our prodigiously talented heptathlete, can fill the shoes vacated by Jessica Ennis-Hill.
The Gold Coast will provide a breathtaking backdrop to great sport over two weeks. One word of advice, deposit heavily into the sleep bank over the next few weeks given the ten-hour time change.