Ex­pand your think­ing on Comm Games

The Southland Times - - SPORT - PHIL LUTTON

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.

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