Commonwealth Games: good for cycling
With the Australian team for the Comm Games of 2018 named, it’s time to consider what this sporting carnival is all about. Ultimately, it’s good for sport… even if not everyone in the world understands the concept.
Okay, the last time they were on the Commonwealth Games seemed to just pass on by without too much fanfare. Yes, there were quite a few conquests – some amazing times set and some fantastic rides executed – but not everyone in the world understands what they’re all about.
In Australia and a few other places, however, this quirky gathering still means quite a lot.
When they were on in Glasgow in 2014, it was Tour de France time. The opening week of the Games in Scotland was the final week of the Tour in France. The road cycling juggernaut hogged the headlines and the Scottish sports carnival seemed to come and go (at least for those who were covering the Tour) without too much fuss.
There were golden moments to savour and, when you take a moment to consider it, there’s a lot that went on in that fortnight of competition during a Scottish summer. Australia demoralised the ‘Poms’ in the team pursuit – 3:54.851 to 4:00.136; Anna Meares winning the 500m TT in 33.435; Scott Sunderland’s ‘kilo’ in 1:00.675; Steph Morton winning the sprint, Matt Glaetzer taking the keirin… etc. Good times indeed.
One thing that makes the ‘Comm Games’ special is the ‘Us versus Them’ mentality that often comes when there’s competition between Australia and England. Or, for that matter, between the Aussies and the Kiwis. It brings out the best in some athletes and the rivalry is able to evoke some great racing and stories that can be told for generations to come.
Alex Edmondson (above) won gold and silver in the team and individual pursuits, respectively, in 2010.
It’s not just the notion of beating the Poms that makes it engaging.
There are times when the Commwealth Games simply provides a quality contest and fitting champions.
Remember that day in 2006 when Mathew Hayman outwitted the South Africans? Oh, it was fun. He doesn’t win often but when it happens, he does it in style.
Ben Day and Peter Dawson helped set things up for Hayman in the road race in Melbourne 12 years ago. Both those guys won silver medals that week: the Queenslander in the TT (behind compatriot Nathan O’Neill); the West Australian in the team pursuit (in the ‘Revenge of the Poms’)… but on that hot Sunday in March of 2006, Day and Dawson lay it on the line for a rider who has served as a domestique most of his long career.
“When Ben was fried Peter took over,” Hayman told me about the Comm Games road race all those years ago, “I was in the front row seat when they finished and suddenly I had a chance to win… so I did.”
Claiming the bronze medal in the road race won by Hayman was Allan Davis, future Comm Games champion (in 2010) and bronze medallist in the world championships (2010). For a long time, ‘Alby’ was the “Bundy boy with potential” and the race in Melbourne provided both him and Hayman a chance to show off their form to a home crowd.
Allan Davis on his way to third place in the road race of 2006 (above).
The Commonwealth Games provides awkward moments for many Australian pro riders; if they are shortlisted for selection, the task is to then explain to their trade team that this is something significant. Imagine Hayman going over the concept to Theo de Rooy, his Dutch team manager (and paymaster) at the time. ‘Yeah, it’s a championship event between former British colonies – Commonwealth nations…’
Nou en..? So what..?
Well, it gets TV coverage and exposes sport to the masses. It’s not football, it’s not cricket, it’s not the Olympics, it’s not something that makes a lot of sense… but it does get people talking and it does tend to eke out some pretty good results.
Oenone Wood, second in the road race in 2006, with coach Warren McDonald (above).
Consider Manchester in 2002; that was a Commonwealth Games that provided a few moments to remember. I was on the plane home from the Tour at the time that an Aussie quartet finished the team pursuit in under four minutes for the first time. Graeme Brown, Peter Dawson, Brett Lancaster and Luke Roberts rode 4,000m in 3:59.583… world record!
It was the second time a team had beaten the four-minute mark and it provided good reason for celebration at the track.
Oh yeah, and let’s not forget that 2002 provided one of many Brad vs Brad moments. It was McGee against Wiggins in the final of the individual pursuit – just as it would be at the Olympics two years later… in Manchester the Aussie beat the Brit (but in Athens, the Brit beat the Aussie – and that’s another story for another time).
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Mark Cavendish (above), winner of the Commonwealth Games scratch race in 2006.
From left to right (below): Ben Kersten, Ryan Bayley and Shane Kelly in the keirin in Melbourne 2006.
The Commonwealth Games are a little obtuse for nations in the Rest Of The World, but for Australians or Brits or New Zealanders or Welshmen or Manxmen, it’s something special.
It was in Melbourne 12 years ago that a “little fat kid” (his words, not mine) sped around the host nation’s Ash Hutchinson in the final lap of the scratch race to claim a gold medal. That Cavendish bloke, they said back then, would go on to bigger and better things. Turns out, ‘they’ were right… but it’s not often that we’ve seen him compete in the colours of the Isle of Man.
The Commonwealth Games allows young and old the chance to show themselves. It provides a competition in which domestiques can become champions. It is a showcase for sports that may not often get airtime. And it is something that’s hard to explain to those who haven’t got a vested interest.
In the modern era it is necessary for the Commonwealth Games to compete against events like the X Games for attention (and sponsorship dollars). It’s even something of a quest to remain relevant but there are still plenty of reasons to look forward to what’s going to unfold in Queensland in April this year.
If nothing else, it’ll be a chance for 36 athletes to suit up in green and gold and ride their bikes on the road, trail and track in an attempt to beat the Poms or the Kiwis… or whoever else may turn up trying to make a name for themselves. It’ll surely give us a reason to cheer. And there’s nothing at all wrong with that, is there?
– By Rob Arnold