Bolt’s alleged discretions aside, the comparisons between Glasgow 2014 and London 2012 were inevitable and unfair. With so many countries excluded because they never had the dubious honour of being invaded by the British (or were so unhappy with its rule that they left the Commonwealth), the standard in many sports was always going to be lower than the Olympics of a World Championships.
This much was evident from the moment Glasgow won the right to host the twentieth commonwealth games in 2007 and it didn’t seem to bother the Scottish public, the 15,000 volunteers and many of the participants, who were either delighted by their triumphs or distraught by their defeats. It’s clear they don’t share Bolt’s supposed claims that the Commonwealth Games are “a bit shit”.
The empty arenas of Delhi were replaced by passionate crowds in sporting theatres old and new – the Hydro, Ibrox and Hampden Park – the latter of which just looks as though it was made for athletics. The ethos of the friendly games was maintained with support offered for all nations, not just the Scots, but on the courts, pitches, floors and tracks, there were plenty of people desperate to bring home gold.
Joy and despair
Greg Rutherford said his victory in the long jump proved his Olympic triumph was no mere fluke, Northern Irish boxer Michaela Walsh was devastated to lose to Nicola Adams in their gold medal fight and Euan Barton put his London 2012 nightmare to rest in the judo. Try telling them the Commonwealths mean nothing, that they only won because the Americans, the Russians and the Japanese weren’t present.
Of course, for some sports, the Commonwealth Games are the peak. England’s netballers were inconsolable at losing in the final minute to New Zealand in the semi-finals and there is no greater stage for lawn bowls or squash, the latter of which is incredibly still not an Olympic discipline. Rugby Sevens, the other sport unique to these games, will make its Olympic bow in two years, adding special significance to this year’s event. South Africa destroyed New Zealand’s aura of invincibility just as the sport prepares to go truly global.
For others, Glasgow 2014 could act as a springboard for future success. Team GB’s swimming prospects in Rio look a lot better than they did two years ago in London and British gymnastics looks to be in a good place. Claudia Fragapane’s gold in the individual all-round final was a personal highlight and one of the best pieces of sport I’ve had the fortune of witnessing live. It was also just the first of four golds for one of the stars of the past ten days.
The Glasgow show
Some athletes genuinely enjoy the Commonwealth Games, while others patronisingly big them up, possibly at the behest of sponsors eager to maximise the exposure of their athlete. No one is going to sit and make the argument that the Olympics are inferior to the Commonwealths – but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy them for what they are.
Glasgow 2014 was never going to be another London 2012, but it was never meant to be. What it did do successfully though, was to capture the carnival feel of the bigger event, with the atmosphere enveloping the city.
Athletes walked past buskers filling Buchanan Street with music, queues for the official superstore snaked around Georges Square and visitors took pictures with Clyde, the anthropomorphic thistle mascot of the games, next to the river after which he was named.
Gold Coast will host the next edition in 2018, while Edmonton or Durban will put on 2022, and there is a possibility the event could come to Cardiff in 2026. Proud Welshmen and women, and residents of its capital, would do well to embrace the event with the same fervour and delight that Glasgow has.
The Hampden crowd, whether or not they believed The Times about Bolt’s comments (he denies them vehemently), were in awe of the Jamaican superstar on Saturday night. In the 4×100 metre relay, Bolt almost nonchalantly led his team to victory ahead of a very credible England performance, but from the moment he danced to the Proclaimers’ 500 Miles before the race, to the selfies and high fives he granted the crowd and volunteers after, he was the star of the show and arguably the defining moment of Glasgow 2014.
It epitomised the unique appeal of the Commonwealth Games. It celebrates lesser nations, postcolonial quirks and incredible stories, offering a stark contrast to the life-or-death nature of the Olympics. It’s a bit more relaxed, a bit more fun, but above all, a celebration of how fun sport can be.