It’s time we all banged a gong for the Commonwealth Games
For SA’s star athletes, they sure ain’t irrelevant
One question always crops up every time a Commonwealth Games comes around: How relevant are they?
As far as the sceptics are concerned they’re a poor man’s Olympics, comprising just 71 nations that don’t include sporting powerhouses like the US, China, Russia and Germany.
And then, not all the top eligible competitors actually go (there were some Kenyans and Canadians absent in Gold Coast).
Perhaps this is a minority view, but the Games hold plenty of value for those who take it seriously.Of South Africa’s 33 Olympic medals won from the Atlanta Games in 1996 until now, no fewer than 23 were won by competitors who had been at the Commonwealth showpiece two years earlier.
I’m not including the two medals from Barcelona 1992 because SA’s first Commonwealth rodeo was in 1994.
SA’s 24 out of 33 medals is 72.7%. But then deduct the four Olympic gongs that have been won by codes that do not feature in the Commonwealth arena — rowing (three) and canoeing (one) — and that pushes the real percentage up to 82.7%.
Swimmers Chad le Clos (four Olympic medals), Penny Heyns, Roland Schoeman (three each) and Cameron van der Burgh (two) as well as track and field stars Hestrie Storbeck (two), Wayde van Niekerk, Sunette Viljoen, Khotso Mokoena, Mbulaeni Mulaudzi and Hezekiel Sepeng have all been the Commonwealth route.Three members of the 4x100m freestyle relay team that took Olympic gold at Athens 2004 were in the foursome that won Commonwealth silver at Manchester 2002 — Schoeman, Ryk Neethling and Lyndon Ferns.
In fact, Neethling took bronze in the 100m freestyle behind Australia’s Ian Thorpe in 2002, the gap between them being a massive 0.98sec. In Athens two years later Thorpe took the bronze by edging Neethling into fourth by a mere seven-hundredths of a second. Fourth isn’t a medal, but it’s damn close.
The immensely talented Caster Semenya and Luvo Manyonga are among the few who, for different reasons, didn’t get to the Commonwealth Games before winning their Olympic silverware. But they went to Gold Coast to win gold.Imagine if the Commonwealth Grinches were to steal this showpiece and obliterate it from the calendar. What would replace it?
The Commonwealth Games Federation has acknowledged it needs to adapt, and Gold Coast 2018 had some interesting innovations.
They had gender equity between men’s and women’s medals, and they had more events for disabled competitors.
Perhaps the mistake the naysayers make is trying to measure the Commonwealth showpiece in Olympic terms.
But if that’s what they want to do, they should appreciate it as a wonderful stepping stone to Olympic success.
Maybe it’s not as irrelevant as they thought.