The 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games baton has just left London, with Australia hosting the event for the fifth time. But are the Games are still relevant in an increasing congested calendar?
The Commonwealth Games particularly for many Olympic athletes, has been an important stepping stone.
The Games introduce athletes to all the vagaries of competing in a large multi-sport event – major ceremonies, living in an athlete’s village, the length of proceedings, mixing with athletes from different sports and countries, and importantly, being exposed to the media spotlight.
While some Australian athletes may encounter this type of environment through the Youth Olympics, the Commonwealth Games is closer to the Olympics. World championships and world cups cannot compare due to their singular sport nature and lower media profile.
Many of Australia’s individual gold medallists in swimming, athletics, cycling, diving and shooting over the last two decades competed at a Commonwealth Games prior to the Olympics.
Ian Thorpe, at 15 years, won four gold medals at the 1998 Kuala Lumpur Games and went on to win three gold and two silver at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
An 18-year-old Grant Hackett won the 1500m freestyle gold medal and silver in the 400m freestyle at Kuala Lumpur, and went on to win two golds at Sydney 2000.
Stephanie Rice at 17 won gold medals in the 200m and 400 individual medley at the 2006 Melbourne Games, and won these events and the 4x200m freestyle relay at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
A 19-year-old Jodie Henry won the 100m freestyle and two 100m relay gold medals at Manchester in 2002, and repeated this haul at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Mack Horton at 18 won a gold medal in the 4 x 200m freestyle relay as a heat swimmer and a silver medal in 1500m freestyle at the 2014 Glasgow Games and went on to win the gold medal in 400m freestyle at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Several notable swimmers that went to the Olympics prior to the Games and had immediate Olympic medal success include Leisel Jones, Libby Trickett and Kyle Chalmers. Two of Australia’s most decorated swimmers, Petria Thomas and Susie O’Neill, started their careers at the Games before winning multiple Olympic medals, including gold.
Cathy Freeman (debut at 16 years) was a member of the 4 x 100 relay team that won gold at the 1990 Auckland Games and went on to win a silver medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and gold at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Sally Pearson (at 20 years) fell during the 100 hurdles final at the 2006 Melbourne Games but went on to win the silver medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and gold at the 2012 London Olympics.
Jared Tallent (at 21 years) won the bronze medal in the 20-kilometre walk at the 2016 Melbourne Games, then silver and bronze medals at the 2008 Beijing. He was also recently awarded gold medal in the 50km walk at the 2012 London Olympics as a result of a doping disqualification.
Steve Hooker competed at the 2004 Athens Olympics before his gold medal success at the 2006 Melbourne Games and 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Ryan Bayley won two gold medals at the 2002 Manchester Games and repeated this feat at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Sarah Carrigan finished fifth in the time trial at the 2002 Manchester Games and went on to win gold in the road race at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Anna Meares won gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics before competing at the Games.
Chantelle Newberry won gold and silver medals at 1998 Kuala Lumpur Games. She didn’t medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics but went on to win gold in the platform at Athens 2004.
Matthew Mitcham at 18 just failed to medal at the 2006 Melbourne Games but went on to win gold in the platform at Beijing 2008.
Catherine Skinner reached the semis in the trap at the 2014 Glasgow Games, and went on to win gold in the trap at the 2016 Rio Olympics.
Suzy Balogh won a bronze medal in the trap pairs at the 2002 Manchester Games and went on to win trap gold at Athens in 2004.
The Games has been an important pathway in many of Australia’s recent individual Olympic gold medallists. While the competition level may not always be world class, athletes gain tremendous experience.
If the Commonwealth Games fail to survive due to the lack of cities willing to host, it’s important that Australian athletes compete at the Asian Games.
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