Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games end on a high note

GLASGOW, Scotland — Haste ye back.

The curtain dropped Sunday on the magnificently presented 2014 Commonwealth Games, with a lone piper hauntingly piping Robbie Burns’ Auld Lang Syne from the roof of Hampden Park to conclude the closing ceremonies.

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Several Island athletes competed in the Games, making their presence felt by contributing eight medals to Canada’s third-place total of 82. Not among the medallists was Victoria cyclist Nic Hamilton. But he bestowed the bookends on the Games. Hamilton crashed into a track official at high speed while training at the Games velodrome on the day of the opening ceremonies, flying out of his saddle over the handlebars. The official received a broken collarbone and Hamilton a concussion, putting him out of the track events. After sitting out the mandatory seven days for a concussion, Hamilton was deemed fit to compete in Sunday’s road race. The Island pro cyclist was among the 128 riders unable to finish during a brutal Glasgow rainstorm. Only 12 riders were able to withstand the deluge and cross the line, led by Tour de France pro rider and Games gold-medallist Geraint Thomas of Wales.

The Games were conducted amid the charged emotions of the Scottish Independence Referendum, scheduled for Sept. 18, yet both the Yes and No sides mostly suspended their campaigns the last two weeks for the good of the Games.

“This is the last day of my self-denying ordinance,” said First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond, a leading figure on the Yes side.

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“It’s what most politicians have been doing [muting the debate during the Games].”

A theory is Scotland’s success in both staging the Games, and finishing fourth in golds in the medals table, has welled pride across the country and given the Yes side a big boost.

As is often the case in independence referendums, the passion and romance is all with the Yes side, with blue “Yes” signs spotted in house and flat windows all over this city. “No” signs are rarely seen. But you get the quiet sense talking to people here at rail stations and shops that the silent majority will be heard Sept. 18 and the Better Together side will prevail.

Flower of Scotland was sung lustily at the Games venues as Scotland received a hosting bump with 19 gold medals. Yet English athletes were also cheered loudly at all the venues as England topped the Commonwealth Games medal standings for the first time since the 1986 Edinburgh Games. That ended Australia’s run of six consecutive Games atop the tables, which began at Auckland 1990 and continued through Victoria 1994, Kuala Lumpur 1998, Manchester 2002, Melbourne 2006 and Delhi 2010.

“I thought we’d get booed,” said English team badminton player Andrew Ellis, in a Games news release.

Far from it.

Canada regained its traditional third-place standing in the Games, climbing back from its fourth place at Delhi 2010 (76 medals, 25 golds) after India received a hosting bump to place third. Canada finished with 82 medals in Glasgow, including 32 golds, to England’s 174 (58 gold) and Australia’s 137 (49 gold).

“We hoped to achieve a top-three finish and it’s mission accomplished,” said Scott Stevenson, general-manager of the Canadian team.

“We finished behind England and Australia exactly as anticipated but we are really pleased we closed the gap on them. Not just us, but Scotland, New Zealand and Wales. We all took a little bit of a bite out of those big guns [England and Australia].”

What makes the Island’s eight medals here even more impressive is that several top Island athletes weren’t in Glasgow to swell that total.

Rowing, a traditionally strong Island sport internationally, has a Commonwealth championship but it’s not part of the Games. And London 2012 Olympic medallists Richard Weinberger of Victoria (open-water swimming) and Gillian Carleton of Victoria (track cycling), along with world championships silver-medallist wrestler Stacie Anaka of Victoria, didn’t have their event classes included in Glasgow.

Glasgow 2014 medals from Island athletes included Ryan Cochrane’s two swimming golds, Jim Paton’s two shooting silvers, Kirsten Sweetland’s silver in the women’s triathlon, swimmer Hilary Caldwell’s bronze in the 200-metre backstroke, Cameron Levins’ bronze in the 10,000 metres and Michael Mason’s bronze in the high jump. Also Catharine Pendrel, who became an eventual world champion cyclist in Victoria after being a casual athlete in the UVic triathlon club, had gold in women’s mountain biking.

In the close call category, Island athletes with fourth-place finishes in Glasgow included Sweetland and Matthew Sharpe in team triathlon, Riley McCormick in three-metre diving and Max Plaxton in men’s mountain biking.

Island athletes came away impressed by the Games.

“[Ibrox during the 2014 Commonwealth Games] was one of the loudest stadiums I’ve ever been in and the crowd cheered for the underdogs,” said Canadian rugby sevens players Mike Scholz, whose club is the Castaway Wanderers of Oak Bay.

“The Commonwealth Games, and the Pan Am Games next year [in Toronto], are unique for us [compared to rugby-only IRB events] because we get to mix with athletes from other sports. It’s cool to meet Canadian athletes from other sports.”

With Rio 2016 looming, you must take advantage of any chance to gain experience in a multi-sport Games setting.

“This was huge for me,” said 22-year-old Canadian rugby sevens player and SMUS-grad Mike Fuailefau of Victoria, who gained his first taste of a multi-sport Games atmosphere in Glasgow.

“The Scots were super friendly.”

Island athletes such as Sweetland, Mason and Levins made major statements at Glasgow on the road to Rio.

Hammer-thrower Sultana Frizell from Perth, Ont., who won gold in a Games record, was chosen as Canadian flagbearer for the closing ceremonies.

The 2018 Commonwealth Games are on the Gold Coast of Australia from April 4-15 of that year, which isn’t optimum timing in early spring for Canada’s summer-sport athletes.

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