Danson: Gold is the dream one year from now
MY first Commonwealth Games were in Melbourne, in 2006, and that was enough to prove to me that they are a spectacle in their own right and should be a major event on the international hockey calendar.
The hockey competition features strong nations like England, Australia, New Zealand and India so it is especially valuable in terms of development. There are now Youth Commonwealth Games as well so that makes the idea even better.
The Games I have been to were all brilliant in different ways.
Melbourne was just spectacular because everything was run brilliantly – the village was beautiful and the volunteers were superb.
There was a lot of concern about Delhi in 2010 but it wasn’t nearly as bad as has been made out, though it was quieter in the stands and that was a bit of a shock, especially after Melbourne.
Glasgow, in 2014, was a highlight because it was almost like playing at home and the atmosphere was back to being something special.
I am on the board of the Commonwealth Games Council for England which has been a massive – and fas- cinating – learning curve. When you go and compete, you focus on the performing on the pitch and I am now getting a feel for the massive operation which goes on behind the scene to organise something on such a scale.
As an athlete I had no idea of the day-to-day logistics involved in sending 600 athletes across the world. Now I do!
I applied to go on the board because I thought it would be really interesting and that I might have something to offer from an athlete’s perspective.
I was nervous about sending in my application because I had no boardroom experience whatsoever but I feel I am working with some great people and can have some input from the athlete’s point of view.
The governance and strategic side has been really interesting but we also look at all the operational details involved in an event which attracts some 7,000 athletes and staff from around the world (7,350 athletes and officials took part in Glasgow).
To give you some idea of the things we discuss, we’ve looked at issues like the holding camp, medical facilities (how many ice-baths do we need, what’s the recruitment process for physios?), the seating in the dining hall, the layout of the accommodation, and generally tried to get input from every sport with the aim of sending England’s bestprepared and most professional team ever.
Don’t forget that it’s not just an opportunity to prepare athletes for the challenges of an Olympics, it’s also an opportunity for coaches, support staff, administrators and medical practitioners.
I’ve been to Brisbane – in 2008 for a Test series – but I haven’t been to the Gold Coast. I’ve seen pictures and it looks spectacular, and I know the Australians will put on a superb show.
I loved Melbourne and my first Games experience. Although I went to the 2002 World Cup I was on an Under 21 tour while the Manchester Commonwealth Games were on that year. They were probably the only ones I didn’t really get to see because as a kid I always watched the Commonwealths and just wanted to be part of them.
The Australians put on such a fantastic spectacle and I am sure the Gold Coast will be just as good. Those Games next year, and hosting the World Cup in England in 2018 are two massive reasons I wanted to carry on playing internationally after Rio.
Going back to Melbourne, I had never been in a multi-sport athletes’ village environment. I remember Beth Storry, the goalkeeper, and I being so excited because there were so many different athletes from different nations.
The athletes’ village was superb – there were so many distractions and we had to learn very quickly to do some of them and ignore the rest! As far as the hockey was concerned, I was so nervous my heart was going 19 to the dozen. When we won the bronze, it was my first international medal.
Having subsequently been part of Great Britain teams in Beijing, London and Rio I can say also what brilliant preparation the Commonwealths are for the Olympics.
You have to get used to the communal living, the food hall, the aforementioned village distractions and the travel to the venue – getting on and off buses. Those are the sort of details you can’t practice at any other event. Logistically, the Olympics are bigger but there are also so many similarities. Having an opening and closing ceremony, for example, having an England block in the village (as we have GB in the Olympics) and being part of a much bigger team – Team England or Team GB and not just being England or Great Britain Hockey.
While we are able to get great competition against some of the top teams in the world, it’s also pits us against teams we would never normally meet – like the Caribbean nations or the Malaysian women, who would not normally qualify for a World Cup or Olympics.
Those sorts of sides pose different challenges and can help you develop your style of play while still being in an extremely competitive environment.
I’ve won two bronze medals (Melbourne, and Delhi in 2010) and silver in Glasgow in 2014 so it would obviously be a bit of a dream to go one better, and we are in with a very good chance if we do everything right in the next 12 months.
When I think again about learning from the Commonwealth Games, I look back to the 2014 final. A goal up against Australia with seconds to go, we conceded and then lost on the penalty shuffles. My goodness did we learn something then, and look how it turned out in the end!
The Australians put on a fantastic spectacle and I’m sure the Gold Coast will be just as good
Running free: England’s Alex Danson gets away from Malaysia’s Siti Noor Amarina Ruhani