A good Gold Coast Games

Cana­di­ans en­joy Com­mon­wealth Games even if medal haul didn’t meet ex­pec­ta­tions

The Sault Star - - SPORTS - NEIL DAVID­SON

GOLD COAST, Aus­tralia — While Canada fell well short of its goal of 100-plus medals at the Com­mon­wealth Games, team of­fi­cials say the true test of the Gold Coast Games will come two years from now at the Tokyo Olympics. Lessons learned here should pay off in 2020, said Cana­dian chef de mis­sion Claire Carver-Dias.

“It’s in­tel­li­gence,” said Carver-Dias, a for­mer syn­chro­nized swim­mer who won medals at the Olympic, Com­mon­wealth and Pan Amer­i­can Games. “You’re gath­er­ing data.

“And peo­ple un­der­es­ti­mate the Com­mon­wealth Games,” she con­tin­ued. “We’re chron­i­cally un­der­funded. But it is listed as a mile­stone in the per­for­mance path­way and ath­letes keep say­ing these games are im­por­tant. It’s a check­point ... Olympians are go­ing to ben­e­fit from be­ing here.”

Carver-Dias’ words are un­doubt­edly true. But, like the Com­mon­wealth it­self, the ques­tion-mark over the rel­e­vance of the so-called Friendly Games seems to grow ev­ery four years.

Sup­port­ers point to the games’ in­clu­siv­ity, with gen­der medal equal­ity and para-events as part of the pro­gram. Here they also noted the games’ rec­on­cil­i­a­tion ac­tion plan with Aus­tralia’s Abo­rig­i­nal and Tor­res Strait Is­lan­der peoples.

Af­ter some bold talk of a tripledigit medal haul, Canada had to wait un­til the fi­nal day of com­pe­ti­tion to match its total of 82 from four years ago in Glas­gow. A poor fi­nale by the Cana­dian women’s rugby sev­ens team Sun­day meant a pos­si­ble medal No. 83 — a bronze — now be­longs to Eng­land.

Thanks to an un­ex­pected men’s bas­ket­ball sil­ver, Canada fin­ished with 15 gold, 40 sil­ver and 27 sil­ver. While the total num­ber of medals did not change from Glas­gow, the num­ber of golds plum­meted from 31 to 15.

Canada fin­ished third in total medals be­hind Aus­tralia’s 198, in­clud­ing 80 gold and Eng­land’s 136 (45 of which were gold). But it was fourth when it came to golds with In­dia, which had 66 total medals, col­lect­ing 16.

Track and field, not helped by the late with­drawal of sprinter An­dre De Grasse, was down to 13 medals from 17. A young rhyth­mic gym­nas­tics team won two medals, down from six in 2014. Wrestling was down from 12 to 10 with head coach Tonya Ver­beek see­ing the need to re­vamp some things in the wake of a few spotty per­for­mance.

But, led by 17-year-old Tay­lor Ruck’s eight medals (1-5-2), swim­ming won 20 medals com­pared to 11 in Glas­gow. And box­ing pro­duced six medals, dou­ble the out­put four years ago.

When Damian Warner stum­bled in the de­cathlon, Pierce LePage stepped up to the podium. Ha­ley Smith over­took Emily Batty to take moun­tain bike bronze.

While the peaks seemed to can­cel out the val­leys, Cana­dian team of­fi­cials will be study­ing the num­bers and per­for­mances to see why Own The Podium’s pro­jec­tion of some 100 medals — the ac­tual num­ber was 112 but they wanted to dampen ex­pec­ta­tions — wasn’t met.

The youth of the Cana­dian team, the power of Team Aus­tralia and a spate of fourth-place fin­ishes — the lawns bowls team had five alone — were cited as some of the rea­sons.

On the plus side, no Cana­dian ath­lete got tanked up and bor­rowed a Hum­mer.

And there was plenty to cel­e­brate. Joanna Brown rallied from a frac­tured shoul­der to win triathlon bronze. Maude Char­ron, a rel­a­tive new­comer to weightlift­ing, hoisted gold. El­lie Black, with two gold and a sil­ver, was a class act in gym­nas­tics.

Canada’s women ruled the sand in the games de­but of beach volleyball, with the men talk­ing sil­ver in a thriller. Back­stro­ker Kylie Masse fol­lowed up her 2017 world ti­tle with dou­ble in­di­vid­ual gold and a re­lay sil­ver. Wrestler Diana We­icker, a mother of two and part­time pe­di­atric nurse, won gold.

Wheel­chair racer Diane Roy, at 47, won bronze. And 20-yearold boxer Thomas Blu­men­feld, marked by welts, proudly put his body on the line to earn sil­ver.

Diver Jen­nifer Abel bounced back from a dis­as­ter in the syn­chro­nized three-me­tre spring­board to win gold in the in­di­vid­ual event. And let’s not for­get 70-yearold shooter Robert Pit­cairn, the old­est com­peti­tor ever at the Com­mon­wealth Games.

But the show be­longed to Aus­tralia. The home team won 73 medals, in­clud­ing 28 gold, in the swim­ming pool alone.

Aus­tralia soared into top spot in the medal stand­ings with 198 (80-59-59), up from 137 (49-4246) four years ago when it fin­ished se­cond to Eng­land. But it didn’t im­prove its own record at Mel­bourne in 2006 when the host nation won 221 medals, in­clud­ing 84 gold. Eng­land slipped to se­cond spot at the Gold Coast with 136 (45-45-46), down from 174 (58-5967) in Glas­gow.

The heavy­weights didn’t hog all the medals.

The Bri­tish Vir­gin Is­lands, Do­minica, Cook Is­lands, Vanuatu and Solomon Is­lands all won medals for the very first time at a games. But 13 of the 71 na­tions that com­peted here will have to wait for more years to hunt for a first-ever medal.

The sports were well-at­tended, with lo­cals in the ma­jor­ity. The fact that most of the spec­ta­tors were Aus­tralian added to the at­mos­phere in the venues if not the streets. Peo­ple went to the venues and they went home.

Other than a trans­porta­tion glitch for the pub­lic at the open­ing cer­e­monies, there were few com­plaints. The games were wellor­ga­nized with an army of cheery vol­un­teers.

“They were in­cred­i­ble games,” said Canada’s as­sis­tant chef de mis­sion Benoit Huot. “The or­ga­niz­ing com­mit­tee de­liv­ered. The peo­ple from the Gold Coast and Aus­tralians were proud to re­ceive those games and we felt it.”

Huot, a for­mer elite swim­mer, has been to 16 mul­ti­sports games, be­tween the Olympics, Par­a­lympics, Pan Ams and Com­mon­wealth Games, “and I can say it’s in the top three, easy.”

The big win­ner at the end of the day may be the Gold Coast, with its con­stant sun­shine and beau­ti­ful beaches. Queens­land’s slo­gan of ’Beau­ti­ful One Day, Per­fect The Next“was well-cho­sen, although the marathon­ers may have a dif­fer­ent take on the heat that left some lit­er­ally out on their feet.

One month af­ter the chill of the Pyeongchang Games, re­porters here were gifted tubes of sun­creen by smil­ing vol­un­teers.

The aptly named Surfers Par­adise man­aged to com­bine the best and worst of Las Ve­gas, Florida and Ni­a­gara Falls.

“It’s hard not to have a good time on The Gold Coast,” said Erica Wiebe, cham­pion wrestler and Cana­dian flag-bearer. “There’s beaches, there’s koalas, there’s sun. It’s ab­so­lutely a dream.”

Birm­ing­ham, Eng­land, will be hard-pressed to sur­pass the scenery Down Un­der in 2022.

RYAN REMIORZ/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Canada’s Penny Olek­siak, left, checks out team­mate Tay­lor Ruck’s eight swim­ming medals af­ter the end of the swim­ming events at the Com­mon­wealth Games, on Tues­day, April 10, in Gold Coast, Aus­tralia.

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