Commonwealth Games: Not exactly a sceptic tank
Some say it’s a poor cousin to the Olympics, but ...
They might have been short of selfie sticks, but the three Fijian journalists I met ahead of the Commonwealth Games in Australia this week weren’t short on confidence.
“Where are you from?” they asked me after I’d snapped a pic of the trio posing in front of Gold Coast 2018 branding at the main press centre in Broadbeach.
When I told them South Africa, their eyes lit up and they retorted immediately: “We’ll meet you in the final.”
They were referring, of course, to the men’s rugby sevens competition, where the Blitzboks are the defending champions.
Fiji, winners of the inaugural sevens crown at Rio 2016 to claim their nation’s first-ever Olympic medal, weren’t at the last Commonwealth showpiece in Glasgow four years ago (or the one before that).But they’ve reached the podium at every Games they’ve been to, acquiring two silvers and a bronze from 1998 to 2006.
The Kiwis had held a tight monopoly on the sevens gold since the sport was introduced at Kuala Lumpur 1998, winning all four editions until they ran into Seabelo Senatla and Cecil Afrika in Scotland.
Who wouldn’t want to watch the sevens competition at Gold Coast?
The Commonwealth Games has its detractors. The sceptics reckon it’s dying because it’s a poor man’s Olympics that can’t even attract the best stars in the Commonwealth.
Olympic 100m butterfly champion Joseph Schooling of Singapore won’t be here to trouble Chad le Clos, and Canada’s Andre De Grasse has pulled out too, presumably leaving podium spots open in the 100m and 200m for the likes of Akani Simbine, Anaso Jobodwana and Clarence Munyai.But the fact is, the Games has been a rich breeding ground for future talent.
Schooling took the 100m butterfly silver behind Le Clos in Glasgow, and De Grasse, a triple Olympic sprint medallist in Rio, was unable to make the 200m final in Glasgow where Simbine ended fifth.
The fact is that the Games does offer some top-quality competition. Netball and sevens are tantamount to world championships, and across all codes there have been some memorable contests over the years.
Like the Blitzboks coming from behind to dethrone New Zealand 17-12 last time out.
And the once-off cricket competition 20 years ago, when Shaun Pollock led an understrength team missing the likes of regular skipper Hansie Cronje and Allan Donald.
SA appeared down and out in the semifinal against Sri Lanka at 96/9 chasing 131, but Nicky Boje and Alan Dawson pulled off an heroic rescue to take them to victory.A near full-strength Australian side captained by Steve Waugh awaited SA in the final, but once again there was a twist in the tail. Pollock won a crucial toss and put the Aussies in first, and SA bowled them out for 183.
Only three SA batsmen made double figures, but Mike Rindel (67) and Jacques Kallis (44) did enough to steer them home.
There was the spectacular swim by Ryk Neethling at Manchester 2002 where he dived in last with his team outside the top three of the 4x100m freestyle relay and he pulled them to silver behind Australia.
By the way, Neethling, before he became a fully fledged sprinter, also had an entertaining battle against three Australians to take the silver in the 1500m freestyle in 1998.
At Athens 2004 three members of SA’s relay team — Neethling, Roland Schoeman and Lyndon Ferns — regrouped to stun the world and land the Olympic gold in a world record, and two years after that they toppled Australia on home soil at the Melbourne 2006 Commonwealth Games.
That was also a vintage year on the athletics track.
LJ van Zyl, competing at his fourth Games in Gold Coast, won the 400m hurdles in 48.05sec 12 years ago, and then he anchored the 4x400m relay in thrilling fashion, taking them from fifth spot to second with an awesome burst of speed on the home straight.
A reasonable array of sports is available at the Games, and there are sure to be some great performances once again. There’ll be something for everyone, even the sceptics.