Gleeful Games captivates for 12 days in Birmingham
The Commonwealth Games ended on a familiar note on Monday.
Australia topped the medal table, with England second, the same as four years ago.
Once again, the Games’ superpowered twins collected nearly half of the golds on offer. Together, they won 124 of the 280 on offer.
England can have heart to win more medals overall than in any previous game.
Further down the table, Scotland also left with a good run. Apart from their home display at Glasgow 2014, they won more golds and more medals than at any other Games.
Wales slipped from seventh to eighth in the medals table compared to the Gold Coast, while Northern Ireland climbed to 11th from 20th after a string of successes from boxing
On the surface, it seemed business as usual. At most, a slight change in the old world order. The Commonwealth may be going through political upheaval, but the Games remain in a state of sporting stasis. That was the impression.
Take a closer look, though. Dig into the details and things are changing.
This was the first major multi-sport event to award more medals to women than to men. Among them were the most compelling moments of Birmingham 2022.
On the Alexander Stadium track, Scotland’s Eilish McColgan rode a wall of sound to a 10,000m victory.
At the Thames Valley VeloPark, England’s Laura Kenny he invoked the magic of London 2012 to banish his own doubts and win race gold from scratch.
At the Sandwell Aquatics pool, Alice Tai triumphed, six months after making the decision to amputate his right leg below the knee.
As a puffing steampunk bull stole the show at the opening ceremony, Malala Yousafzai’s words echoed through the action.
Yousafzai was 15 when the Taliban shot her in Pakistan, a revenge attack for claiming her right to education.
A decade later and now based in Birmingham, the Oxford University graduate and Nobel Prize winner explained to the crowd the power of sport.
“When we look at the incredible athletes, we remember that every child deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential and pursue their wildest dreams,” he said.
The alchemy that turns precious hopes into precious metals was at work everywhere in Birmingham.
The largest para-sports program in Commonwealth Games history was seamlessly integrated.
Take the 3×3 basketball. Disabled and non-disabled took their turn in court at Smithfield. The atmosphere and action continued at the same fever pitch regardless.
Last Monday, Australian wheelchair basketball Lachlin Dalton hit a decisive shot from beyond the arc to dramatically dash England’s gold medal hopes.
Twenty-four hours later, England’s Myles Hesson did the same for the Australians in the non-disabled final.
There was no stopping the drama.
Wales’ two athletics golds arrived The surprise of Olivia Breen in 100 m over the English rival Sophie Hahn and Aled Sion Davies’ return to the discus – a pair of side-by-side wins that came spiced with backstories and brimming with raw emotion.
Birmingham had their fill of everything. New sports like Twenty20 cricket took off. It was the busiest of all the Commonwealth Games with over 1.3 million tickets sold.
Prejudices elsewhere were reshaped as the city showed its heart and soul.
Nor will it be the last time the sporting spotlight shines on Birmingham and the Black Country.
The Games are intended as a launching pad during a “golden decade” of great events.
Next year the World Championships in Trampoline Gymnastics are coming. There is a bid for the European Athletics Championships in 2026. Another is being considered for the World Athletics Championships in 2031. There is even tentative talk of a future Olympic bid.
Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston was full of praise Industry and Birmingham’s initiative to deliver ‘a Games of amazing achievement’, as he talks about that future.
The Games didn’t have everything.
British stars Dina Asher-Smith, Max Whitlock, Katie Archibald and Tom Daley were missing as they rested their bodies and minds.
The appeal of a large crowd and national pride was not enough to convince Jamaican sprint stars Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson to compete.
Instead, when athletics reached its peak, they were racing 1,000 miles east in a more lucrative Diamond League event in Poland.
The staging of the Commonwealth has not been an easy sell in recent years either.
Durban was due to host those Games, but pulled out in 2017 as costs soared.
Victoria will host the next one, the sixth of the last seven editions to be held between Australia or the UK, with events spread across the state.
But when Birmingham handed over the baton to four Indigenous elders at Monday’s closing ceremony, it was burnished with memories of the past 12 days.
Birmingham’s frenetic energy, human touch and growing sense of pride have revitalized a concept it needed with so many enthusiastic hosts.