Gifford: Games about more than just nostalgia

PHIL GIFFORD IN GLASGOW
Last updated 06:39 24/07/2014
Athletes welcomed
LAWRENCE SMITH/Fairfax NZ
GREAT SCOTS: Athletes are welcomed into the village in Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games.

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OPINION: The Commonwealth Games are one of those slightly weird things you remember with some fondness  from years ago, like mullets, Top Town and disco music.

On the other side of the world from Glasgow it's easy to consign them to a place of fuzzy nostalgia.

But, having arriving in Scotland yesterday,  it quickly becomes clear that's not how the Games are seen in Britain.

Coverage? The most popular channel BBC One is devoting hour on hour to live telecasts. All the papers are loaded with Games stories. They range from the sensational, "racist rant at Games volunteer" to the sentimental, "Susan Boyle charms ill children on Queen's baton relay."

Popular? At sports clubs tent cities have sprung up. There's still a handful of the most expensive tickets available for today's opening ceremony, but many events are sold out. A young man in a local bank beams with pleasure when he announces he's been able to get tickets for Friday night's badminton.

What's brought the change? How can two groups, the Scots and the English, neither especially famous for a lack of cynicism, be so united in cheerleader mode?

Look to the 2012 London Olympics, when athletics fever swept the British Isles, just as it did in New Zealand in the middle distance glory days of the 1970s, when John Walker, Dick Quax and Rod Dixon ruled the track.

Look especially to Mo Farah, a charming, charismatic man who came to England from Somalia when he was eight, and whipped the best 5000 and 10,000 metres runners in the world in London two years ago.

Farah's running in Glasgow, as is the spectacular Usain Bolt (albeit only in a relay), and these two alone have fans here quivering with anticipation.

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Add to the mix something you don't expect to find in Scotland.

Sun, and temperatures of up to 27C. Many lifetimes ago I spent a month in Edinburgh (just 75km to the east) in the middle of summer, reporting on the 1970 Commonwealth Games. In 30 days there was not one single day without some rain.

I wouldn't say people here are cowering in fear at the appearance of this big, yellow, burning thing in the sky, but they do seem just a fraction bemused.

And when shirts come off in beer gardens outside pubs the glare from expanses of skin so white it's almost translucent is a scary sight.

So while the Games may take a day or two to gain traction in New Zealand, don't you worry about the hold they have on people on this side of the world.

                                                ***

A fair question about Valerie Adams carrying the flag for the first time at a Games. Why has it taken this long?

There's actually no conspiracy. In London, in particular, she wasn't in consideration because, as she did in Beijing, she placed every ounce of energy into winning gold, to the point of choosing to not take any part at all in the opening ceremonies.

In 2012 Nick Willis had the job, and by the time he'd met the media obligations that come with carrying the flag, and spent several hours of lost sleep marching in the late night ceremony, there wasn't a lot of nervous energy left for what really mattered, running in the 1500 metres.

Valerie Adams has a seven day break after today's ceremony, and, although she will never say it, the standard at the Commonwealth Games is a long step down from the Olympics. So carrying the flag in Glasgow is nothing but a pleasure and a honour for her.

March and then win?  Bet on it.

- Stuff

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