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Birmingham breathes fresh life into Commonwealth Games with ultimate sporting palate cleanser

Birmingham 2022 delivered thrilling entertainment and variety, while creating new sporting heroes

James Toney
In Birmingham
Tuesday 09 August 2022 14:11 BST
Fireworks during the closing ceremony on Monday
Fireworks during the closing ceremony on Monday (Getty )

Perhaps it’s taken nearly a century of fighting for relevance for the Commonwealth Games to find its place as the ultimate sporting palate cleanser.

Each hour of the day we can gorge on our favourite teams, leagues and stars, spoiled for choice on every channel and stream. So perhaps once every four years it can nourish the soul to get excited about a bronze medal beach volleyball match between Vanuatu and New Zealand. And maybe you should take up bowls too, a nicer bunch of people you couldn’t wish to meet.

As the days counted down to these Commonwealth Games, the chorus of cynics grew ever vocal. Birmingham in August? Bring a brolly, they said. In fact, the average daily temperature exceeded four years ago in “sunny” Queensland.

They started with a banger of an opening ceremony and cranked up the volume each day. The closing show left your ears ringing and a wide grin like a Cheshire cat.

Hellraiser: Ozzy Osbourne of Black Sabbath performs during the closing ceremony (Getty)

It’s true some of the star names didn’t show up and some of those who did may have initially wished they hadn’t. Don’t tell Adam Peaty, who lost his eight-year unbeaten record in the 100m breaststroke, this competition is second-rate.

Besides, the Commonwealth Games have always been about making new heroes. Gymnast Jake Jarman, unknown just two weeks ago, stepped out of the shadows of Max Whitlock and carried England’s flag into the closing ceremony after his four golds.

Double gold medallist Andrea Spendolini-Sirieix, just 17, could be a diving superstar to rival Tom Daley and Jack Laugher, Delicious Orie proved more than just a great name with an inspirational back story in the boxing ring, and women’s hockey came home... again.

Birmingham’s show was remarkably trouble-free, one of the benefits of not having many sponsors is not many corporate tickets. Seats were filled with real fans who wanted to be there, and arenas new, old and temporary rocked to a Brummie playlist from ELO to UB40 to glam rockers Slade.

This was just what we needed, even if you thought sometimes you were at a party first and a sporting event second.

The closing ceremony (PA)

Because if you cocked your head, squinted, and ignored the split times, it was a bit like going back to that storied summer of 2012, when gold medal endeavour was just a flick of the remote or a bus ride away.

No Super Saturday but plenty of super performances. Pakistan’s Arshad Nadeem unleashing a rocket of a throw to win the javelin, Australia’s women’s 4 x 200m freestyle relay setting a scorching world record, bowler George Miller winning a gold aged 75, and Jamaica’s netball Sunshine Girls dancing their way into the affections of all who watched.

Australia topped the medal table to prove true the joke that the Commonwealth Games give them a chance to win without competing against countries that also have swimming pools. But it was close, Team England finishing just two medals behind them, their haul of 176 a best-ever performance, erasing Glasgow from the record books.

Of the 280 gold medals awarded, 61 per cent were won by either Australia, England, Canada or India. However, a record-equalling 43 of the 72 nations and territories involved made the podium, including boxer Duken Tutakitoa-Williams, who became the first medallist for Niue, population 1,937.

Scotland had their best “away” Games yet, while Wales dipped slightly on their Gold Coast haul, though eight golds was still their third best performance in history. Guernsey even got in on the action with a silver and bronze.

Jake Jarman was England’s flagbearer for the closing ceremony (PA)

The Alexander Stadium, once so tatty and unloved, was the beating heart of the Games, packed to the rafters morning and night. It surely wasn’t lost on World Athletic boss Seb Coe that more people watched athletics here than the last two editions of his showpiece World Championship combined.

The Commonwealth Games have been living on borrowed time for a while now, but the last 12 days breathed fresh life into an event that’s too simplistic to dismiss as an anachronism.

Birmingham welcomed the world with warmth and authenticity. A city founded on its heritage of “1,001 different trades” now speaks with almost as many voices. If you want to look the Commonwealth in the eye, come to Brum.

Too often the hosts of major events scrub themselves of their imperfections, in 2010 Delhi cleared beggars from the streets and erected barriers to hide its slums. Birmingham took the more refreshing view of “accept us for who we are”, and the Games were enriched for it.

The closing ceremony was foot-tapping brilliance from start to finish: leave them smiling and wanting more was clearly the message. Birmingham, you played a blinder.

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