Glasgow Games open with due ceremony

Glasgow Games open with due ceremony
Go Glasgow! The spirit of the Commonwealth Games is abuzz in George Square with people posing with the “The Big G”. The gigantic 3D structure reflects the 20th Games’ logo.

After nearly seven years of planning, £500 million (S$1.05 billion) of investment and over a million tickets sold, the Commonwealth Games has taken off in the land of Braveheart and brave hearts.

Last night's dazzling opening ceremony at Celtic Park showcased the best of historical and contemporary Scotland, 28 years since it last hosted the multi-sports showpiece in Edinburgh.

A 40,000-strong crowd, including former James Bond actor Sean Connery and Queen Elizabeth II, were entertained by Scottish musical icons Rod Stewart and Susan Boyle, plus a host of other Glaswegian fanfare.

Now it is the turn of 4,500 athletes to strike the right chord with an estimated television audience of 1.5 billion, while they battle for national pride and three prized spots on the podium of their respective events.

As the hopes of 71 nations and territories play out on the track, across the streets and in the waters of the industrial city, what happens over the next 11 days has implications beyond the world of sports.

Scotland holds a historic referendum in September on whether to become an independent country. All eyes are on their athletes and fans alike for signs of their support or opposition to breaking away from Britain.

The reputation of the Games is also on the line, damaged somewhat by the 2010 Delhi edition which was plagued by poor ticket sales and issues with venues and accommodation.

Glasgow is unlikely to witness the same embarrassing images of half-empty venues and largely disinterested crowds, with 94 per cent of all seats reportedly filled.

Still, given the cost of putting on major sporting events, fears grow that the Commonwealth Games will one day drift irreversibly towards redundancy.

On the sporting side, however, the Singapore women's table tennis coach Jing Junhong insists the quadrennial event remains high on its priority list.

Said the four-time Commonwealth Games gold medallist: "It is a high-level competition for both our young and experienced players to participate in.

"I know all our athletes, and not just in table tennis, definitely want to go out there and win every single gold medal available." Glasgow will be judged - perhaps unfairly - against an enthralling 2012 London Olympics, a cause not helped by several star names choosing to spend their summer elsewhere.

Sprinters Yohan Blake and Dwain Chambers, cyclists Mark Cavendish and Becky James and heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill are among those missing owing to a combination of injury, choice or other reasons.

Team Scotland chef de mission Jon Doig sees the positive side as new national heroes emerge.

"We see people becoming household names at every Games," he told the BBC.

Four years ago, Australian swim sensation Alicia Coutts made her first big splash with five golds, while the All Blacks-Wallabies rivalry delivered new names and greater heights in the rugby sevens.

This year, Olympic heroes are on show in the form of Jamaica sprint superstar Usain Bolt in the 4x100m relay and the English trio of distance runner Mo Farah, diver Tom Daley and Tour de France-winning cyclist Bradley Wiggins.

Despite the absence of Bolt and Blake in the blue riband 100m dash, four of the 13 men who have run below 10sec this year will compete.

"There's something special about Commonwealth that the other major Games lack - there's a rivalry between the British nations to outdo each other, which rubs off on the rest of us," said Singapore sprinter Calvin Kang, a veteran of three SEA Games, two Asian Games, one Commonwealth Games and one Olympics.

The "Battle of Britain" makes for prime-time viewing - the BBC alone is planning 300 hours of network coverage, 200 hours of radio and 1,300 hours of live action on 17 digital streams.

In Manchester in 2002, the last time the Games were held in Britain, England won 164 medals, Scotland 30, Wales 29 and Northern Ireland five.

To avoid a similar drubbing on home soil, the hosts are targeting at least 34 golds - one better than their previous best in 1986. Team Scotland chairman Michael Cavanagh said: "Scottish athletes winning gold medals makes everybody feel better and more confident.

"Our athletes are already walking pretty tall because it's a home Games. Imagine how tall they'll be walking once we've won a gold?"

SERIOUS BUSINESS

I know all our athletes, and not just in table tennis, definitely want to go out there and win every single gold medal available. - Table tennis coach and four-time gold medallist Jing Junhong

INFECTIOUS MOOD

There's something special about Commonwealth that the other major Games lack - there's a rivalry between the British nations to outdo each other, which rubs off on the rest of us. - Sprinter Calvin Kang, who is competing in his second Games

HOME RUN

Scottish athletes winning gold medals makes everybody feel better and more confident... Imagine how tall they'll be walking once we've won a gold? - Team Scotland chairman Michael Cavanagh, on support from Scots


This article was first published on July 24, 2014.
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