The hits and misses of the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games

Sam BruceESPN Associate Editor8 Minute Read
What the television audience missed. The athletes march into the stadium before the telecast begins.Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images

The 21st Commonwealth Games came to an end on Sunday night, with a controversial Closing Ceremony bringing down the curtain on 12 days of competition on Australia's Gold Coast. Bucking years of tradition, the organisers of the ceremony decided to have the athletes in place inside the stadium before the telecast began, depriving the television audience of seeing the athletes march in behind their chosen flag-bearers - in Australia's case Kurt Fearnley.

While the opening and closing ceremonies might have disappointed many, the Games themselves provided plenty of excitement and entertainment.

Inevitably, the host nation reclaimed its place at the top of the medal count after conceding that position to England in Glasgow four years prior; Australia amassing 80 gold, 59 silver and 59 bronze for a total of 198 medals. That put them 62 medals clear of rivals England.

Away from Australia's dominance, there were some sparkling moments for the smaller nations, particularly at the track. It proved an historic Games for the British Virgin Islands with Kyron McMaster winning his country's first medal at any major championship, a gold to boot.

Kyron McMasterCameron Spencer/Getty Images

A seemingly idyllic location, the Gold Coast didn't disappoint its many visitors with only scattered showers interrupting a few days of competition and even then they were brief. The host city did however experience some difficulties, issues they must review and rectify if the South East Queensland region [Brisbane and Gold Coast combined] is serious about bidding for the 2032 games.

The competition

With 23 sports contested over the 12 days, there were plenty of medals up for grabs. Australia dominated the multi-medal events, the swimming and cycling in particular, while the African nations and Jamaica, enjoyed success at the track.

Between the pool, and the bike on both the road and velodrome, 52.5 percent of Australia's gold medals were won, while swimming itself accounted for just under 37 percent of the total medal haul.

Chloe HoskingADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/Getty Images

As expected a trans-Tasman theme emerged at the team sports with Australia and New Zealand contesting the men's and women's hockey deciders, and the women's rugby sevens. But the script wasn't followed at the netball, the Silver Ferns suffering shock losses to Malawi and Scotland, which put them in a semifinal showdown with Australia.

The venue

While the outdoor pool looked a treat when the weather was fine, the rugby sevens was a sell-out and Carrara Stadium's transformation from AFL ground to track and field venue was impressive, there was no better place to be than the beach volleyball. The small, temporary stadium erected on Coolangatta Beach could not have had a better position; from the southern side, the view back up towards the heart of the Gold Coast was spectacular.

Beach Volleyball venue.Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

And the atmosphere was just as special. Complete with its own lifeguard DJ tower, the beach volleyball was one big party throughout. The gold medal session was the hottest ticket in town, and the crowd certainly provided a scintillating atmosphere as Australia claimed gold [men's] and silver [women's].

The star

While other athletes may have come home with more gold, Taylor Ruck's eight medals in the pool was a record-equalling haul. Just 17 years of age, Ruck looks set for a long and successful career in the pool and will certainly be an athlete to look out for come Tokyo 2020.

Ruck's only gold came in the 200m freestyle but she added four more individual medals [two silver and two bronze] and a further three came in relays. In winning eight medals at one Commonwealth Games, she equals the record owned by fellow swimmers Australians Susie O'Neill and Emily Seebohm, and countryman Ralph Hutton.

Taylor RuckIan MacNicol/Getty Images

An honourable mention must go to Caster Semenya who completed the women's middle distance double over 800m and 1500m in, if we're being honest, a canter. South African Chad Le Clos, meanwhile, became the first person to win the 50, 100 and 200m butterfly as part of his five-medal haul.

The story

What were you doing at age 11? Playing ping pong in the back shed with your siblings? Eleven-year-old Welsh wunderkind Anna Hursey is doing the same thing. Kind of.

Hursey was the talk of the Gold Coast as she became Wales' youngest ever senior table tennis competitor, as well as being the youngest athlete at these Games. She helped Wales to the quarterfinals of the women's team event, before finishing her singles competition with a 1-1 record.

With the table tennis competition held at Movie World, Hursey's story may have the makings of a Hollywood script. Look out, Birmingham 2022.

The performance

They just keep getting better. Australia's all-conquering women's 4x100m freestyle relay team lowered the mark they set in Rio on the opening night of competition on the Gold Coast. The team of Cate and Bronte Campbell, Emma McKeon and Shayna Jack touched in a time of 3:30.50, shaving .15 of a second of their previous mark.

Shayna Jack, Bronte Campbell, Emma Mckeon and Cate CampbellQuinn Rooney/Getty Images

The villain

Usually it's a showdown between two individuals from opposing nations that creates ill-feeling. But that wasn't the case up in the Hinterland on the Gold Coast as Kiwis Sam Gaze and Anton Cooper engaged in a final sprint for gold, including a sneaky shoulder from Gaze.

In the end, Gaze shook off a flat tyre to power beyond Cooper and take gold, raising his finger as he crossed the finish line. Soon after, Gaze accused Cooper of poor sportsmanship for not slowing down while he was fixing his puncture; he was also snapped giving Cooper the two-finger salute from the transition area.

Cooper's response was simple, he wasn't going to sit and wait. Gaze eventually apologised to Cooper, saying he'd "reacted badly".

The upset

Adam Peaty losing a first breaststroke race in four years and Scot Duncan Scott taking down Olympic champion Kyle Chalmers are worthy nominees but for shear jaw-dropping shock, it has to be Malawi's victory over New Zealand at the netball.

Described by stuff.co.nz as the "darkest day" in New Zealand netball history, the Silver Ferns capitulated as Malawi turned a seven-goal halftime deficit into a one-goal lead and the "Queens" held their nerve to win from there.

What may come as small comfort for the Silver Ferns was the fact that arch rivals Australia were beaten in the decider by England.

The interview

Take a bow, Kurt Fearnley. The veteran Australian para-sport athlete retires a happy man after taking out Sunday's men's wheelchair marathon. But it was his post-race chat with Channel 7's Pat Welsh after finishing second in the 1500m earlier in the week that stole the show.

The first fully integrated Commonwealth Games were embraced by the public despite some of the small start lists in the para-sport events. Fearnley hailed the Gold Coast supporters, telling how he'd been "put in this massive position of privilege" that he was extremely grateful for. If you haven't seen it, watch it below.

He backed that up with another ripper interview following his victory in the marathon.

The fans

The decision to shift the school holidays proved correct as families made the most of the sporting feast up and down the Gold Coast. There was great colour and atmosphere at most venues while supporters lapped up the free events such as cycling's road race and time trial, and the marathons on the final day.

The Games weren't without incident however with "Stolenwealth" Indigenous protesters making their presence felt throughout the Games. They appeared in big numbers near the set of Channel 7's Sunrise program one morning while five arrests were made by police.

The image

It may be halfway through autumn but Australia can still turn on summer-like conditions, particularly in Queensland. And that's exactly what transpired on the final day of the Games when Scotland marathon runner Callum Hawkins collapsed just two kilometres from the finish line.

Callum HawkinsCameron Spencer/Getty Images

The sight of the Scot stumbling and falling into the barrier won't be easily forgotten. Thankfully, Team Scotland later confirmed there was no major concerns for Hawkins' health; Games organisers now looking into the speed of the on-course medical response.

The city

Despite its largely pristine weather, monstrous Australian success and well-attended events, the Gold Coast didn't quite have the feel of a city that was hosting a major sporting event.

Whether it was a pre-Games media campaign that predicted traffic chaos because of significant road closures or some people just saw the school holidays as a chance for a holiday, there was a distinct lack of atmosphere in the heart of the city.

Talking with wait staff, café owners and Uber drivers alike, the message was always the same: they hadn't been busy. Having been told to call in extra staff and stock to deal with the predicted masses of people, some businesses along the Glitter Strip have, reportedly, suffered significant losses. There has even been talk of a class action.