Expand your thinking on Comm Games
OPINION: A few days after his historic gold medal in the 400m hurdles, Kyron McMaster held court at the Commonwealth Games to explain the expectation on his young shoulders and how deeply victory was felt in his native British Virgin Islands.
Prior to his 48.25sec whirl around Carrara Stadium, the BVI had never won a medal of any colour at either an Olympics or Commonwealth Games. When it came, it was the perfect colour. Over in the Caribbean, it was their America’s Cup moment.
‘‘People were messaging me like crazy before the race. It was like ‘no pressure ... but you have to win the medal’. To win it for the British Virgin Islands after what we’ve been through, everyone was just so happy,’’ a beaming McMaster said.
‘‘I don’t think anyone went to work that day. They just partied and had fun. So I was happy to bring some joy back to the islands. It gave them hope.’’
It is hope they need. Back in September, Hurricane Irma ravaged the Islands, flattening or damaging almost every building and leaving 6000 people without homes. Of the 134 people killed, one was McMaster’s former coach, Xavier Samuels.
‘‘They see me do it ... this town boy can do it, we can do it,’’ McMaster said. ‘‘I know athletes back home are looking at me for motivation.’’
The Commonwealth Games, especially one played out on home soil, are inevitably viewed through the Australian prism. The stories have all been worthy – some beyond inspirational – but they are only a few of the narratives that stretch out to a third of the world’s population.
McMaster’s was one of the best. So too that of New Zealand’s Dame Valerie Adams, a shot put silver medallist just six months after welcoming a baby daughter, and England’s giant-killing netballers, whose stunning upset of Australia will be a game-changer for the sport in that country.
Perhaps Australians who stubbornly dismiss the Games are victims of medal fatigue. There were plenty to be had in green and gold. The host nation had 198 (80, 59, 59) in total by the time the party started on Sunday night, well clear of England, then India.
Yet the same critics who cry on social media that ‘nobody cares’ about this revamped relic of another age are content to go back to AFL or rugby league, two famously insular sports that rarely cause a ripple beyond our shores.
As Australia’s road race champion Chloe Hosking said with gusto: ‘‘It’s so special to win on home soil. People say for road cycling Commonwealth Games isn’t that big a deal but you know what? I’m Commonwealth Games champion and it’s a big fu--ing deal.’’
Too fu--ing right. Anyway, as much as punters with a Twitter account think they can change the world, none of the athletes cared two licks by the time the closing ceremony kicked into life with the voices of Amy Shark and Archie Roach.
They came, competed, finished first, last or somewhere in between and loved every minute of it. There were stories to behold and none should be diminished (shout out to Emily Seebohm). Few were better than Kurt Fearnley, the great para athlete chosen to carry the flag in his final Games.
People regularly point out that the Games of the Commonwealth aren’t the Olympics. Sometimes, that’s a very good thing. To see Fearnley pump his arms like pistons on a locomotive in prime time, to hear him talk with such vigour about improving the lives of people with a disability, was something to truly behold.
And really, they were the kind moments that will be frozen in time from the Gold Coast, which did just fine hosting the Games. It mostly ran like clockwork and as per tradition, some African athletes simply ran, still to be located.
This was sport, after all, and sport that mattered, so for every celebration there was an equivalent heartache. English cyclist Melissa Lowther was to compete in the time trial, only to find officials had not entered her in the race.
And on the final day, the harrowing vision of Scottish marathon runner Callum Hawkins collapsing just 2km from the finish was difficult and confronting. With medicos slow to reach him, he melted into the hot bitumen, unable to rise. Some fans stood and took photos of his plight.
Yet overwhelmingly it was good and wholesome and exactly what we needed as a sporting nation that had so recently stood accused of disappearing up our own backsides in the relentless pursuit of victory at any cost.
The closing ceremony continued the themes of reconciliation and connection to the indigenous past that seemed to scare jittery middle class white people when the Games opened. The lack of footage of athletes entering the stadium, especially Fearnley with the flag, went down poorly with viewers, as did the musical line-up. But hey, you want it on budget, you don’t get AC/DC.
A long way from Burleigh Heads, 2020 host city Birmingham wants its Games to revolve around an old city with a young, vibrant population. Rapper Lady Sanity provided part of the soundtrack, although not everything needed to be so new and fresh; Jeff Lynne’s ELO would contribute Mr Blue Sky to a scene.
The city also has Black Sabbath and Duran Duran up its sleeve to open its Games in four years. Over to you, Brummies. We expect big things.
Kyron McMaster, of the British Virgin Islands, celebrates with fans after winning the men’s 400m hurdles final at the Commonwealth Games.
New Zealand’s Dame Valerie Adams’ silver medal effort as a new mother was a moment to cherish for all sporting fans.