As I walk along the beach, the cool sand softly cushioning my feet there is suddenly an eruption of noise. Just off the shoreline are 2 boats releasing an abundance of fireworks into the night sky. As impressive as any display that I’ve seen it marks the culmination of a spectacular couple of weeks of sport, the Commonwealth Games.
Spread along the stunning coastline of the Gold Coast this latest installment of the games didn’t disappoint. From reasonably priced tickets, free and easy to use transport to the amazing volunteers there was a real electricity in the air.
While the Commonwealth Games have always been nicknamed the ‘friendly games’ in comparison to it’s older, and arguably more prestigious cousin the Olympics, it is probably the best word to describe the atmosphere throughout the fortnight.
Everyone was happy to help or even just to chat to a solo traveler. I so often saw athletes wandering around, using the public transport and not being pestered for selfies yet willing and enthusiastic to talk to people about their sport, their games and to find out about other people’s too.
I was lucky enough to attend 4 ticketed events, the Swimming, the Hockey, the Lawn Bowls and the Rugby Sevens.
The Swimming was the event I was most looking forward to, being my sport, and it did not disappoint. I somehow managed to grab myself a ticket to the Men’s 100m and Women’s 200m Breastroke finals. Which was like Christmas come early for someone who specializes in Breastroke during their swimming career.
It did not matter that I was sat 2nd row from the back, high up with the swimming gods because the view was unreal. There is something rather magical about an open-air swimming arena on a balmy evening and something a bit weird about shouting for the home nations while everyone else is cheering on the Aussies!
I did, however, manage to impress a couple of my Aussie neighbors with my rendition of Jerusalem (the apparent English national anthem) during Adam Peaty’s Gold medal ceremony. Yes, some people do know the words to this hymn – kind of.
However, it was the Rugby sevens that for me had the best atmosphere. A real family friendly occasion, It didn’t matter which teams were playing the crowd got behind everyone. They were here to see some good rugby (and obviously Australia) which they got a whole heap of.
Despite the heat, the crowds even turned out for the free events too. From the walking race and Marathon to the cycling road race and time trial. The courses were littered with crowds.
The cycling road races and time trial took place down at Currumbin beach with those lucky enough to have houses on the beachfront finding that their front gardens had become the perfect viewing spot. Yes, there were BBQs. The big screen, beachside, provided the perfect vantage point (from the free bean bags chairs) to follow the race before running over to the roadside to cheer the cyclists on as they flew past. The beachfront finish line even gave the athletes the perfect excuse for a celebratory dip in the sea post race!
Despite an early morning start time for the Marathon (the wheelchair athletes setting off at 6:10 am just 10 minutes after sunrise), the heat proved too much for some of the athletes. At least 7 athletes in the men’s marathon were forced to retire at various points throughout the course. Many of whom collapsed from exhaustion and/or dehydration.
One such medical emergency occurred just meters away from where I was standing. However, the volunteers and concerned spectators sprang into to action offering him water and shade while the medics arrived.
In a moment that, for me, summed up these games I watched the exhausted athlete walk slowly to the athlete support bus while being applauded for his efforts by the crowd. A grateful smile appeared on his face as he clapped back. His way of saying thank you.
The Commonwealth Games aren’t just about the sport though. Each host city creates its own unique flavour, often with a theme that runs through the city. The Gold Coast chose to use the games as a platform to affirm a commitment to and promote reconciliation and unity with the Yugambeh people – the traditional owners of the land.
It was amongst the arts and cultural festivities that ran alongside the sport that the Yugambeh and many other aboriginal people were most prominent. The Festival, Named Festival 2018, was a vibrant, multicultural abundance of street art, street performances, music, games and cultural heritage activities for anyone and everyone to get stuck into.
For me, the significance that was made of the aboriginal people during Festival 2018 made it more special. A chance to get to know the history and traditions of a people I really didn’t know anything about.
In addition, before every session of sport, a short film introducing you to the people and culture of these aboriginal people really helped you get a feeling that the governments were trying to make amend for the atrocities of the past and find a way to make a more harmonious future.
It showed yet again, the power of sport and how it can help heal old wounds.
Yet as I wander away from the main stage at Surfers Paradise and the sounds of celebrations become quieter and the gentle sounds of the waves lapping at the shore more pronounced I cannot help but wonder if it will continue.
Once the athletes and spectators leave and the world’s media leave will the reconciliation programmes continue or will they fall by the wayside and into disrepair as so many of the physical structures from previous Olympic and Commonwealth games of the past have done?
As, so often is the case, only time will tell.
Until Next Time