Commonwealth Games 2014 closing ceremony: Glasgow 'will never be the same' after triumphant Games

Thrilling competition, huge crowds and millions watching at home prove relevance of Commonwealths... and leave a smile over host city

glasgow

Glasgow's Commonwealth Games, which came to a close at Hampden Park tonight, will go down in history with a significant sub-heading: the Bit-Shit Games that saved Britain's sporting summer of 2014.

Where the country's sporting heavyweights – from England's hapless footballers to Andy Murray's limp defence of his historic Wimbledon title – failed, the comparative lightweights proved a knock out. "I felt," said Usain Bolt after collecting his first Commonwealth Games gold medal, "like I was in the London Olympics."

Glasgow has always shied from comparisons with 2012, an iconic sporting summer for Britain, but this was a damn good mini-London, and that is meant as nothing but a compliment. It was a further reminder that Britons may not play sport in sufficient numbers, but they will watch it day-in, day-out. This one came delivered with a dollop of Glaswegian gallus and a great big smile; as the old city marketing slogan had it, Glasgow's miles better.

London did not need the attention that came with the Olympics but for a city like Glasgow, this was a fillip that stretched beyond simply sport. There will have been envious glances from the old maid of Edinburgh over the last two weeks, in what was a prolonged advertisement for Glasgow's not always obvious charms.

"Someone said to me the other day, 'I have lived here all my life, and I can firmly say Glasgow will never be the same – and in a good way. It feels like the city is going places'," said David Grevemberg, the American chief executive of Glasgow 2014. "I thought that was just a brilliant summing up. It will never be the same. This moment has been truly defining. It shows you the power of sport in so many ways."

Video: Glasgow Games come to an end

There were times when Bolt's description (which he still denies, insisting he never uses that word) could be applied. The weather had its moments. Both Bolt's runs came on nights when the skies opened and today was remarkable even by local standards but then this is a Scottish summer and there was just about enough sunshine, particularly in the mood-setting opening days. The quality of some of the sport was poor, notably parts of the athletics and diving. The Olympics, though, also has its fair share of amateurism, see Eric the Eel, Eddie the Eagle and so on. There was plenty of quality to catch the eye, some of it eye-opening – the best of the netball – and some simply a treat, from Max Whitlock's all-round performance in the gymnastics or Ross Murdoch's opening night swim to gold or Lizzie Armitstead's dash to an overdue gold today.

"For me, it was always relevant," said Bolt of the Commonwealth Games. There will be plenty who doubt him but then 8.4m watched him run on BBC1 on Saturday night. The Commonwealth Games matter to some and not to others, but the numbers who turned up to watch – most venues were full – make them relevant. They are a Games that know their place and Glasgow has shown they are a Games that deserve their place on the sporting calendar.

Like any good Games, Glasgow has thrown up new heroes and new hopes, many of whom will disappear for another two years beneath the obsession for all things football – the huge crowds here in succession to the even bigger crowds in London suggest a need for broader minds. The BBC's blanket coverage, and a coverage that at times veered too far into out-and-out cheerleading, was generous but they at least gave these sports real room to breathe.

Jo Pavey on her way to 5,000m bronze at Hampden Park Jo Pavey on her way to 5,000m bronze at Hampden Park

The stars of 2014 will re-emerge in 2016 in the immediate build up to Rio, an Olympics for which Team GB has already been set the stiff task of winning more medals than in London. It is an achievement no country has managed post-host. The over-arching verdict for the post-Commonwealth reunification of Team GB, which begins with European championships in swimming and athletics next week, is largely positive.

"UK Sport are quietly confident we are benchmarking at least as well as this point before London," said Sebastian Coe. The target set by UK Sport within days of the finish in London, is 66 medals – one more than 2012. It is a bold ambition and the heads of the Olympic sports will return south this week to mull over where they all are midway through the cycle.

England topped the medal table, emphatically so, and there were record-breaking Games for Scotland and Wales. In all, England gathered in 174, 32 more than in Delhi four years ago. The 58 gold medals were 19 up on 2010 and it meant England topped the medal table for the first time since Edinburgh 1986. There must be something in the Scottish water.

Despite the mixed level of competition, there are real positives. British gymnastics is in a good place and in Whitlock, they not only had one of the stars of the Games they also have a very real medal contender in Rio. In the Tollcross pool, there was also genuine cause for English and British optimism with a crop of young talent beginning to emerge in Adam Peaty, Ben Proud, Murdoch and Siobhan O'Connor.

British cycling's brains trust, for once, has some thinking to do back in their Manchester HQ. The Commonwealths, for all public claims of treating it seriously, are far from a priority for the senior riders and their coaching staff. The division of Britain for the Commonwealths also muddies the issue but the successes of the New Zealanders and, in particular, the Australians here, will worry Shane Sutton and his staff. There is ground to make up.

But that's for tomorrow. First, there are the swirl of memories that jostle for attention come the end of any Games. File away Hampden roaring Lynsey Sharp to silver, Jo Pavey's bronze at the age of 40, Nijel Amos stunning David Rudisha, Laura Trott's last-gasp points gold, Usain Bolt conducting Hampden in a rendition of the 'Bonnie Banks O'Loch Lomond' and the wide-eyed shock on Murdoch's face as he looked up at a scoreboard that confirmed he had won gold.

"That roar coming down the last 50m for that 200m breaststroke, pushed me on to do something special that night that I didn't believe I could do," reflected Murdoch. "I'll never forget that and I don't know when I'll get that again. I don't want it to wither out, I want us to thrive past this. I hope this Games does go down as a legacy and people thrive off the success we had here."

The sun came out at the very end, as Geraint Thomas stood in Glasgow Green not far past the finish line of an epic road race. The atmosphere for his four-hour ride, he suggested, was like the Tour de France. He carried the Welsh flag into the closing ceremony and will go home today a happy man. And so will many others.

"In my view, they are the standout Games in the history of the movement," said Mike Hooper, chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation. The last word, whether he deserves it or not, goes to the man they so desperately wanted to run. In the end he delivered, and so did Glasgow.

"I take my hat off," said Bolt, doffing an imaginary tam o'shanter, "to everyone in Scotland for a great Games."

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