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Commonwealth GamesCommonwealth Games: Glasgow embraces wide world of sports

Posted: Monday, July 28, 2014 | 09:34 AM

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Scotland's sports fans have turned out in full force for a wide variety of events at the Commonwealth Games. (Julian Finney/Getty Images) Scotland's sports fans have turned out in full force for a wide variety of events at the Commonwealth Games. (Julian Finney/Getty Images)

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The first five days of the XX Commonwealth Games in Scotland have been astounding. Not only has the level of competition been exceptional, but the appetite for a mosaic of sport in this part of the world has been mind-boggling.
The first five days of the XX Commonwealth Games in Scotland have been astounding.

Not only has the level of competition been exceptional, but the appetite for a mosaic of sport in this part of the world has been mind-boggling. The response of Glaswegians to everything that moves on myriad fields of play is really quite remarkable.

During our time here we have been constantly on the move. Because we are a small crew we have to be nimble and try and travel to as many venues as possible to have any hope of reflecting what is taking place at these diverse Games. And remember, there are nearly 5,000 athletes from 71 countries competing in 17 disciplines. This is a massive, international, multi- sport gathering.

We've learned that in Scotland, when it comes to athletic endeavour, variety is indeed the spice of life.

Spine-tingling sevens

It began at the Strathclyde Park on the opening day of competition. The triathlon races unfolded in front of a grandstand that held 1,500 spectators and it was crammed full. At least 10,000 more lined the loch (lake) where the swimming portion of the race took place. There were countless others spread out along the cycling and running routes.

At ancient Ibrox Stadium, the home of football's Glasgow Rangers, there were 50,000 ticket holders to watch the mayhem of the two-day rugby sevens tournament. It was absolutely spine-tingling entertainment, and the atmosphere in the historic soccer venue was electric.

The glittering Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, completed in 2012, is the home of track cycling and is named after one of Scotland's most accomplished athletes. Hoy rode to six Olympic gold medals and 11 world championship titles. The place is sold out for every session and the 4,000 fans who line the wooden track make it crackle with excitement at every bell lap.

"It speaks to the place of importance that sport has with Scottish people," said Hoy, a native of Edinburgh. "It's just such an honour to be associated with a sporting facility that will be busy and useful in the years to come."

Judo joy

At the SSE Hydro, there have been 7,700 fans making buckets of noise for every one of the six medal events in rhythmic gymnastics. Five of those gold medals (plus a bronze) were won by Patricia Bezzoubenko of Thornhill, Ont. The fans seemed knowledgeable and passionate about this unabashedly artistic sport and wildly applauded every expert toss of the hoop and ribbon.

"I'm with you... I don't know much about it," offered Katherine Grainger, a Glasgow native and Olympic gold-medal rower who is commentating for the BBC at these Games. "But I am floored by the athletic ability of these young women."

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Across the way at the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre we found the competition halls for boxing and netball overflowing. The same was true of judo. There were 4,000 fanatics hooting and hollering for every medal match that dominated the lone mat on an elevated centre stage.

Alix Renaud-Roy of St-Roch-des-Aulnaies, Que., disposed of her Australian opponent in a jiffy and won the bronze medal in the 70-kg classification. She was greeted with uproarious applause and bounded into the interview area beaming.

"Are you kidding?  It's awesome," Renaud-Roy gasped.  "Judo in Canada was never like this."

A sweatbox of emotion

That same night we went to the Tollcross International Swimming Pool, which is a half hour away by bus from the Commonwealth Games Plaza.

Geographically, Glasgow is an enormous city, but the story of appreciation for sport is universal here, it seems.

This time 5,000 of the faithful draped flags and banners across every available space and turned it into a steaming sweatbox of emotion. The bagpipes played and the Scottish swimmers, led by Hannah Miley and youngster Ross Murdoch, scored record-setting victories. People wept at the playing of the national anthem.

"It only holds 5,000 but it sounds like 25,000," said an amazed Ryan Cochrane, the Canadian gold medallist in the 400m freestyle. "This is big international swimming and it gets you going."

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On a drizzly and typically Scottish morning of weather, tens of thousands were drawn to city streets and the start/finish area of the Glasgow Green to see Kenyans, Australians, Namibians and Canada's Lanni Marchant contest the marathon races.

They encouraged the runners throughout and stayed to applaud the efforts of the exhausted road warriors as many collapsed once across the line.

At Hampden Park or the Scottish National Stadium where the country's major international football matches are played, the opening day of athletics drew a capacity crowd in the neighbourhood of 40,000 to see not the finals of any particular event but the preliminary or qualification rounds for the 100-metre sprints.

It was yet another full house and the lineups just to get into the stadium were, by any measure, insane.

"I love the crowd," enthused 20-yr-old Canadian runner Shai-Anne Davis, who qualified to move on to the next round. "It really gets me pumped, it motivates me. I'm not thrown by the crowd."

Small country, big heart

The Commonwealth Games, some would suggest, are experiencing difficult times. They have their critics who claim they are not the prestigious event they once were. There are those who believe the 84-year run of the Games might be nearing its conclusion.

But everything we've experienced so far in Glasgow goes squarely and completely against that sentiment.

The venues are packed. The fans are knowledgeable and enthralled.  The competition is compelling.

It's not a very big country, and the vast majority of those who are partisans of anything tend to love football (or soccer, as we refer to it in Canada).

Still, all the evidence suggests there is more than enough room for a wide world of sports here in Scotland.

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