Commonwealth Games more than Olympic stepping stone | Sports | CBC Sports

Commonwealth GamesCommonwealth Games more than Olympic stepping stone

Posted: Monday, July 21, 2014 | 10:55 AM

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Canadian hurdler Angela Whyte is a two-time silver medallist in the 100-metre hurdles. (Ian Walton/Getty Images) Canadian hurdler Angela Whyte is a two-time silver medallist in the 100-metre hurdles. (Ian Walton/Getty Images)

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They are not the Olympics. Nor are they the world championships. But the Commonwealth Games, which open Wednesday in Glasgow, Scotland, have a unique and spirited history that allows them to stand out.
They are not the Olympic Games. Nor are they the world championships.

But the Commonwealth Games, which open Wednesday in Glasgow, Scotland, boast a unique and spirited history. Indeed, they are an evocative and often underrated part of the Canadian sporting landscape.

They have, in the first 19 editions of their existence, produced countless memorable and record-setting performances. Since their 1930 debut as the British Empire Games in Hamilton, Ont., this athletic summit of like-minded people has given rise to seminal moments in sport.

In 1954 at Vancouver, Roger Bannister of England and Australian John Landy ran the "Miracle Mile," becoming the first two racers to go under four minutes at that distance in major competition.

In 1998 at Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Canadian diver Alexandre Despatie won the platform event as a 13-year-old mite, kick-starting one of the most remarkable sagas in Canadian summer sport.

In addition, the wildly chaotic rush that is rugby sevens made its debut in Malaysia. A team sport tournament that can be completed in two frenetic days, rugby sevens has gained inclusion for the Rio 2016 Olympics and is bound to be a fan favourite. The high-scoring nature of the game allows for every possibility, save commercial timeouts and the inevitable stall tactics that weigh down most major professional sports.

At the 2002 Games in Manchester, England, Canadian triathlete Simon Whitfield roared back to win the gold medal against Australian rivals, completing an unlikely and thrilling return from a near career-ending road accident. That same year produced dominant Aussie swimming machine Ian "Thorpedo" Thorpe, who claimed six gold medals in the pool.

In 2006 in Australia, 100,000 fans jammed the Melbourne Cricket Ground to watch the late local marathoner Kerryn McCann outduel Kenya's Helen Cherono Koskei under a blazing sun over the final 400 metres to win the race.

It was absolutely riveting to witness.

So too was the wrestling in New Delhi in 2010. Under the watchful eye of their rabid fans, Indian athletes, both men and women, won an unprecedented 10 gold medals in the grappling events.

Intense rivalry

In short, the Commonwealth Games have, over the years, provided a cacophony of compelling sport. It often unfolds against a backdrop where nations from the four corners of the globe, including Africa, Asia, Europe, the Caribbean and North America, share a common history but also an intense rivalry.         

"These Games give Canadians a chance to compete... in a major event," says hurdler Angela Whyte of Edmonton.

"A Commonwealth year is not a down year. It's a great opportunity for higher-performance athletes to try something [ahead of the Olympics]. We're going into a two-year period where we need to sharpen up. This is also a great stage for developing athletes. This is where I got my start."

In Glasgow, Whyte will be competing at her fourth Commonwealth Games. She was the silver medalist in the 100-metre hurdles at both the Delhi 2010 and Melbourne 2006 Games.

More than 30 years of age and twice an Olympian, she still feels she is growing as an athlete.

"It hasn't been a smooth road and it's been a little rocky at times," Whyte admits with regard to her career. "But I don't think I've reached my potential yet. I'd love to win a world championship medal or an Olympic medal, and the Commonwealth Games are a part of that, to see what I need to fix over the next two years."

An important step

Beyond the prospect of success down the line, Whyte sees the Commonwealth gathering in Scotland as part of the process involved in being a Canadian high-performance athlete.

There is more to this Glasgow sojourn than merely taking steps towards Rio de Janeiro and the next Olympics.

"It's the whole reason we go... we're representing Canada again," she enthuses. "There's nothing to compare it to. You get connected to your country. You can feel the support. You walk into an opening ceremony and you put on your competition top and it says 'Canada' on it. There is nothing like it."

Indeed, Canada has had a remarkable history at the Commonwealth Games. They were first staged in this country and have been held here a total of four times -- at Hamilton, Vancouver, Edmonton and Victoria.

But it's been two decades since the last Canadian meeting in British Columbia in 1994, and the brighter, shinier, lure of the Olympics, world championships and big-money professional circuits have done much to eclipse the stature of these age-old and traditional multi-sport meets.

Still, athletes like Whyte understand that the Commonwealth Games serve a purpose. The reason for their continued existence is to hone the intensity of major international competition, which all high-performance aspirants crave and require.

"We're representing Canada and the whole thing is to go and bring back as many medals as you can for your country," she stresses. "I think that's it. When you're little you see people wearing the Maple Leaf and you want to be that person. I'm proud and privileged to say that I've been that person."

The Commonwealth Games are not the Olympics. But they are a station stop on the journey to Rio in 2016.  

And as every one of the 265 Canadian competitors who have taken the high road to Scotland knows, you can't expect to show up at the Olympics and win without testing your mettle on more familiar fields of play.

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