Commonwealth Games Â The Beginning.
The Commonwealth Games occur every four years. For eligible athletes it
represents one of the absolute pinnacles of the sport. For many sports,
particularly athletics the Games is only rivaled by the Olympics in prestige.
Stadium, Manchester (photo © 2002 Fritz Borchert)
Squash is a relative newcomer to the
event, but its importance cannot be understated. The Aussie squash team
arrived at Manchester the day before the opening ceremony, along with
most of the 5000 other competitors. Just walking around the village helped
me realise the significance of the event and the calibre of the athletes
sharing the competition with us. People you have only previously seen
on sports reports are suddenly sharing meals with you. It creates an atmosphere
and camaraderie that just doesnÂt happen at squash events partly because
of the size difference.
Most squash tournaments are individual
events. While thereÂs usually a friendship between players of the same
country, itÂs still an individual event Â everything is based on how you
do personally. To emphasise this seclusion all of your interactions around
a squash tournament include your opposition and rivals. You stay in the
same hotel, eat in the same restaurant and socialise together. It can
be painful to lose a match and then share a ride from the courts to the
hotel with the very person who has just knocked you out of the tournament.
None of this is the case at the Commonwealth
Games where the main significance is the colour of your shirt and the
flag on your back. YouÂre competing for you country and against other
Consider the size of the Aussie team
at 520 members, and you get an idea of what IÂm talking about. 73 nations
in the games, 5000 or so athletes and over a tenth of them are from Australia,
the nation with the distinction of the greatest success in this tournament.
Suddenly the importance of succeeding for your team become even more evident.
Security is understandably very tight.
When we first arrived at the venue we endured sniffer dogs, X-ray machines
and the ever-present airport rectangle that beeps at you. The beep machine
(itÂs technical name) has provided constant amusement and plenty of laughter
for the squash team. Our coaches Geoff Hunt and Roger Flynn are continually
being asked to take off more and more clothes to stop the beeping and
locate the metal object that theyÂre obviously trying to sneak into the
village (knife? gun? machete?).
Both ex-players have titanium hips
and all of the searching and stripping in the world wonÂt stop the beeping.
But it will continue to amuse us. When the day of the opening ceremony
arrived there was a great buzz in the air with so many athletes walking
around with such anticipation and expectation.
Because of a schedule overlap of the
swimming and diving (they need to drain the diving pool and cover the
area with seating for the swimming) the diving begun before the opening
ceremony. Athletes already receiving medals (Aussie gold!) was even more
food for thought. The Village is about 15 minutes away from the main stadium
and the squash centre, which are beside each other. The Aussie team looked
like a sea of beige suits as we eventually filled up eleven buses.
The length of the short bus trip was
lined with spectators all cheering and waving. Once we arrived with the
other nations it felt like we were a small part of a psychedelic land
of colour. Every country was decked out in weird and magnificance colours,
with the African nations leading the way.
|Opening Night, Manchester
(photo © 2002 Fritz Borchert)
When the time came teams would file
into the stadium alphabetically. So to organise everything they split
the 73 countries up. Countries A-G went into the squash complex to make
sure everything was properly organised and ready to go. Lots of pictures
were taken and excited chatter amongst the athletes. The 100 metre heats,
hockey and other events began the next morning so obviously some athletes
werenÂt at the opening ceremony. Most world class athletic venues have
two stadiums. A main one, and a much smaller one that is used by the athletes
for warming up.
All of the countries (including H-Z
now) assembled on the practice track in the order that we would enter
the stadium. From here we could hear the celebrations including singing,
dancing, lots of fireworks and a jet fly-over, trailing red, white and
blue. There was a screen that we could see the ceremony, but the roar
of the crowd and the intensity of the moment helped the excitement build
Once Angola was called I realised
the big moment had arrived. Australia was to make their entrance. Undoubtedly
one of the highlights of my life: the opening ceremony of the Commonwealth
games. After entering the stadium we were met by a huge screaming cheering
frenzy of people, officials and TV cameras everywhere. People were waving
like mad to get the athletes to wave back at them. The atmosphere was
hard to describe, but certainly like nothing else IÂve ever experienced.
(Daniel writing now) I am still in
Amsterdam, leaving for Manchester in a few days. I watched the opening
ceremony on the BBC, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Aussie squad and
Joe. Obviously with 5000 athletes filing into a stadium over an hour long
period the chances arenÂt too good.
Joe sent me a text message saying
to look out for him carrying an umbrella to make it easier to see him.
It was a clear, warm night so I figured he may use his umbrella as a walking
stick and perhaps wave it around to help me spot him. The Aussies entered
the stadium and the chance of seeing him seemed miniscule. The BBC had
a wide- angle shot as the whole team filed into the stadium.
Then suddenly you can see one lone
athlete walking along with a blue umbrella open and held high above his
head as if it was pouring rain. Once I realised it wasnÂt Mary Poppins
the true attention-grabbing geniusness of my brother became evident. The
BBC commentators thought he was making a joke of the erratic Manchester
weather and had a big laugh.
The camera zoomed in to show Joe and
Dave Palmer casually walking along waving and filming. The same footage
goes back to Oz so Mum and Dad were very excited to see Joe. Apparently
the main news service back home kept replaying the shot throughout their
Joe called me from in the stadium.
Because entrance to the stadium was alphabetical Australia had plenty
of time before the other teams arrived. When I spoke to him he had just
finished having a dance with Sarah Fitz-Gerald on a podium in the middle
of the stadium. (Joe again) After the magic of the first day I was interested
to see what the next day would bring.
|The Queen found the
Squash Enjoyable (photo © 2002 Fritz Borchert)
The Queen of England attended Chris
WalkerÂs first round match against Wayne Prescod of Jamaica. Dave Palmer
and I went to watch the Australian WomenÂs hockey team (World, Olympic
and Commonwealth Game champions for about a decade). The Queen thought
this was a good idea also and went to see it before she went to watch
Chris. After the hockey girls had a comfy win over Scotland Dave and I
caught the bus back to the village.
When we arrived athletes and officials
were lining both sides of the street in eager anticipation, as the Queen
was now visiting the village (I began to wonder if she was following me).
She was walking along the line of people occasionally stopping to talk
to random athletes. I would be lying if I said it wasnÂt one of the biggest
surprises of my life that she walked over to us and started chatting (Dave
and I were with an Aussie hurdler). I was in the surreal situation of
asking myself if I was really chewing the fat with Liz. She asked us what
sports we were involved in. I asked her how she had enjoyed watching ChrisÂ
match, she replied
“It seemed a little strange with the
glass box but I enjoyed it very much”.