Commonwealth Games Memories

Colin shares his memories of the Commonwealth Games

British athletes in the next few weeks will no doubt find winter training less tedious than usual as they strive for selection to the Commonwealth Games in Australia.

London Olympic long jump champion Greg Rutherford, high jumper Katarina Johnson-Thompson and sprinters Adam Gemili and Dina Asher-Smith are among the English stars hoping to be performing in Queensland at the beginning of April.

I envy my colleagues who are going to be in the press seats at these championships. There always seems to be a wonderfully relaxed atmosphere surrounding the Games. The first of the eight I covered was in 1970 in Edinburgh and the last was 28 years later in Kuala Lumpur.

They have come to be called the Friendly Games. Though the battle for medals is always highly competitive, there's far less tension in the athletes’ village than you get at an Olympics.

I have many happy memories but I must admit there were occasions when the atmosphere was far from friendly. As soon as I had taken my first steps into the village in 1970 I was reporting on a bitter row between the English and Jamaican track and field athletes.

It was all over 400 metres runner Marilyn Neuville, who was born in Jamaica but grew up in South London. Marilyn was the outstanding woman one-lap sprinter of her generation  and a shoe-in for the gold medal at Meadowbank. She had agreed to represent England but at the 11th hour changed her mind and decided to run for Jamaica.

This caused great animosity between the two camps. To make matters worse, the Organising Committee in its wisdom housed the two teams in the same residential block. This resulted in a very nasty scene one morning at breakfast when some of the men nearly came to blows. Needless to say, Marilyn on a wet and windy day not only won but her time of 51.02secs was a new world record.

And I shall never forget Kenya's middle-distance legend Kip Keino, who had won the 1500m defying a threat to shoot him if he raced against the two Scots Ian Stewart and Ian McCafferty in the 5000m. It was the final event of the track and field programme and a few hours before the start Keino was threatened with being shot if he took part. The police and officials were very worried that it was for real. But the ever-smiling, dignified Kip refused to pull out and took the bronze behind Stewart and McCafferty.

Edinburgh wasn't without controversy when the Games returned there in 1986 and it was the setting for more unfortunate disharmony. Because some sports in the UK still kept their ties with apartheid South Africa, the African, Asian and most of the Caribbean countries boycotted the Games.

It meant that only seven nations won track and field medals. Two of them went to Steve Cram who did the 800 and 1500m double. Who would have thought then that Crammie was going to be the voice of athletics on BBC TV.

And I shan't forget the Canadian youngster who beat Linford Christie to take the 100m title in 10.07secs. His name was Ben Johnson. Again who would have guessed 12 years later at the Seoul Olympics Johnson would become the most notorious athlete in history.

There's another altercation that sticks in my mind concerning Daley Thompson in Brisbane in 1982. Daley is arguably the greatest decathlete of all time and I had marvelled  at his performance when he won his first gold at the Edmonton Commonwealth Games four years earlier. He was just 19.

The English officials thought they would honour Thompson and invite him to carry the English flag at the Opening Ceremony. To their horror and consternation, Daley refused point-blank to do what 99 out of 100 athletes would have leapt at.

But Thompson reasoned standing in the hot sun for hours during the ceremony might have had an adverse effect on his performance. So he rested in his air conditioned room instead. Not surprisingly, he retained his Commonwealth title beating Canada's Dave Steen by more than 400 points.

Thompson is the only man I know who hated Christmas Day. Because it was the one day in the year his local track at Crawley was closed and he couldn't train. It was that kind of single mindedness that made him such a great champion.

Brisbane was also the scene of the only dead-heat I've ever seen at a major championship. Not even the technical apparatus could separate Scotland's Allan Wells and England's Mick McFarlane in the 200 metres final. There were so many brilliant achievements in my time and I only wish I had the space to tell you about of all of them.

In Auckland in 1990, more great names graced the podium. That remarkable Jamiacan beauty Merlene Ottey did the sprint double, Liz McColgan won the 10,000m and Yorkshire’s Peter Elliott - for so many years in the shadow of Seb Coe and Steve Ovett - got his just reward by claiming the 1500m gold.

Back in Victoria, Canada in 1994 saw a young lady fresh out of the army storm home in the 1500m - Kelly Holmes recorded her first major success. As the song goes, there's nothing like a Dame!

But the most sweet and sour story of those Games made you want to laugh and cry. Sprinter Horace-Dove-Edwin of Sierra Leone, couldn't march in the Opening Ceremony because his country couldn't afford to buy him a uniform.

To the delight of  the entire Commonwealth, Horace finished second to Linford Christie in the 100m final. He had improved from 10.34 to a sensational 10.02 in two days. But his triumph quickly turned to tears. He failed his drug test and he never received the silver.

I will never be allowed to forget Kuala Lumpur in 1998 - my last Games. The record books show someone you may have heard of, a certain Connie Henry, was the women’s triple jump bronze medallist and to my dying shame I failed to report it in The Sun.

Having put the record straight I shall take my leave and look forward to staying up all-night watching TV as our boys and girls fight for glory out in Aussie.

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