From The Press Box: Games about celebrating our best

WE RELISH the underdog tag in Australian sport.

We proudly look to it as our trademark on the big international stage where we pit ourselves against more populous world powerhouses.

Why then, do so many Australians tend to downplay the significance, importance and hype about the Commonwealth Games?

Is it because we are suddenly the heavyweight across the Games’ sporting arenas without the United States, Russians or Chinese we aspire to overpower?

There is a fascination with the best in the world and how we measure up.

Olympic Games are the pinnacle in multi-sport world championships and, being scheduled every four years, the time in between only builds the importance and prestige in winning a medal.

The Commonweath Games is often referred to as the friendly games, especially when compared to reverence about the Olympics.

But the Commonwealth Games also boast a wealth of the world best in action.

Jamaican sprint superstar Usain Bolt is expected to jet into Glasgow next week with an eight-man posse, mostly security to help with the frenzy that tends to follow him in a star-struck athletes’ village. He has been training on his personal track at home in Kingston, Jamaica. Very rock star-like.

The Kenyans dominate long-distance running and impress with their seemingly effortless style as much as the Jamaicans win fans with their explosive sprinting.

In our own Team Australia camp, the Kookaburras arrive in Glasgow a month after claiming their hockey world title in the Netherlands – our marquee women’s team, the Hockeyroos, were runners-up to a non-Commonwealth team.

The world’s best track cyclists are predominantly English or Australian and we have already seen exciting track clashes against the mother-country with our flag-bearer Anna Meares among the first Australians to taste gold.

We made a huge splash for the world to take note from the pool on day one when sisters Cate and Bronte Campbell, Melanie Schlanger and Emma McKeon shattered swimming’s seemingly unbreakable world record in the 4x100 metres women’s freestyle.

They broke the Dutch standard set five years ago and claimed Australia’s first swimming world record since 2009 – the controversial supersuits era – and they did so this time sans supersuit.

Australian swimming legend Ian Thorpe, now in media commentary for the Games, said post-race that the Olympics were serious competition but the Commonwealth Games were a forum in which Australia can really make a sporting mark.

European athletes will have the inaugural European Games next year and the Americas have their long-standing Pan American Games but the Commonwealth Games is really the only multi-sport meet, outside the Olympics, where we can put forward Team Australia.

Formerly called the British Empire Games, the Commonwealth Games allows our nation to feel we belong to something bigger. We speak the same language as our rivals and we have similar histories of British conquest.

It is really the only time the Commonwealth nations hang out, apart from the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting for political leaders to mingle.

The Games also offer a pathway for traditional Commonwealth sports – such as netball, lawn bowls and squash – to share the stage in a major multi-sport gathering, an honour they do have not have the chance share in the Olympics.

Australian chef de mission, Ballarat’s Steve Moneghetti, told The Courier that the Commonwealth Games were a rite of passage for many competing nations and most tended to focus on showcasing prowess in pet events.

It is not “just” the Commonwealth Games, this is a chance to celebrate Australia’s sporting best.

melanie.whelan@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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