Dan­son: Gold is the dream one year from now

The Hockey Paper - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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