Commonwealth Games - The Journey

Following the recent announcement of the 'Magnificent Seven' members of the Team Wales Athletes Commission for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, you could have been forgiven for thinking you need to get a move on to buy your tickets for Birmingham.
In fact, on Sunday, 14 April there were still 1,200 days to go to the first event in the Midlands. Contrast that to the mere 467 days to go to next year's Olympic Games in Tokyo.

There was a time when the four-year cycle of sporting events was totally dominated by the summer Olympic Games and the football World Cup. Those days are over.

The World Athletics Championships, now every two years, the Rugby World Cup, the newly established European Games, and the rejuvenated Commonwealth Games, are all now vying for their day in the sun.
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Credit: Commonwealh Games Wales

And that is exactly what Team Wales enjoyed on the Gold Coast last year, when they celebrated a record-breaking performance. The team of 228 athletes won 36 medals, including 10 golds, to make it the best ever return for Wales.

Where do you go from there? Back to the drawing board, of course, to try to do even better the next time. The planning for Birmingham actually began before the closing ceremony in Australia last year and has continued apace every since.

"The full programme for the Birmingham Games is due to be ratified at a meeting of the Commonwealth Game Federation in September. There are still a few things to be sorted and there is a strong lobby for women's T20 cricket to be included and the shooters are still fighting to stay in the Games," said Brian Davies, Director of Elite Performance at Sport Wales.

"Commonwealth Games Wales have done a great job of working with all the sports in Wales in the build-up to the recent editions. Their approach has been all about this is what you could be doing, rather than this is what you should be doing.

"And in all cases they are offering help, support and expertise to try to get the very best for the athletes.

"There is no doubt the Gold Coast Games were a huge success in the sporting arena, but Team Wales were also wonderful ambassadors to their country. They were a highly successful, happy and well-behaved group.

"It is always great to see Welsh sportsmen and women going on to represent Great Britain on the Olympic and world stage, but it is a special moment to see those same athletes reaching the podium in a Welsh vest.

"Even the most successful and experienced of campaigners have to fight back the tears when they hear 'Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau' playing.

"Their reaction to competing for their home nation says all that needs to be said about the value of the Commonwealth Games. It means everything to them and has enabled the likes of Geraint Thomas, Jazz Carlin, Elinor Barker, Owain Doull and Non Stanford to give something back to those people who helped them on the path to greatness.

"They are also living proof of the return we get in Wales on the money we invest in sport. But it isn't always about the money, or even the medals, the preparation and support that is given to the athletes these days is all about helping them to produce their best performances.

"It is hard enough to merely qualify for Team Wales. There are no trips for the boys or girls to a Commonwealth Games these days and we know that if we can provide the best physical and mental support to our athletes they will give us, in return, personal best performances."
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Credit: Commonwealth Games Wales 

When the full list of sports and venues for the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham was initially announced there was no place for shooting.

It is an optional, rather than core sport, but has only been dropped once previously since first being introduced at Kingston, Jamaica, in 1966.

From a Welsh perspective, it has been one of the most successful sports down the years. At Gold Coast, Mike Wixey and David Phelps won gold, Ben Llewellin struck silver and Sarah Wixey took bronze to make it 26 medals (seven gold, eight silver and 11 bronze) for Welsh shooters at 13 Games.

There has been a strong lobby to ensure that even if it is not included in the Games programme, there is some form of Commonwealth competition at the same time.

Other than that, there will be 17 sports' participation over the 11 days of the Games (provisionally 27 July-7 August, 2022).
Last month a £60m budget was agreed for a new aquatic centre at Sandwell to host swimming and diving, while the Alexander Stadium in Birmingham is due to be upgraded to host athletics and para-athletics.

Gymnastics will be held at Arena Birmingham, netball will be at the Coventry Arena, while the Birmingham NEC will host six sports - badminton, boxing, judo, table tennis, weightlifting (and para powerlifting) and wrestling.

Hockey and squash will take place at Birmingham University, rugby sevens will be played at Villa Park, Sutton Park will host the triathlon, mountain biking will be staged at Cannock Chase, and lawn bowls will be at the Royal Leamington Spa Bowling Club.
At present, the only sport that won't take place in Birmingham is track cycling, which is scheduled for 2012 Olympic Games venue at Lee Valley Velo Park in London.

A Birmingham city-centre venue for the 3x3 basketball and wheelchair basketball events is still being finalised.

But while the organisers in Birmingham continue to dot their i's and cross their t's, Team Wales is forging ahead with their plans, some of which started as far back as six years ago.

Owen Lewis, head of Elite Sport Systems and Partnerships at Sport Wales, said: "Preparation starts many years in advance of a major event like the Commonwealth Games.

"We talk a lot about the long term need to develop athletes and it begins with talent identification and ensuring the stepping stones are in place to allow athletes in all sports to progress properly.

"It's a massive planning process that continually changes along the way. It can be a bumpy journey and sometimes those athletes who you feel are nailed on to win a medal don't always deliver.

"We started putting things in place for Birmingham even before we'd finished in Gold Coast and the plans already created by Commonwealth Games Wales are well formulated and advanced."

The introduction in 2000 of the Commonwealth Youth Games has proved to be a huge boost for the development of future senior team members and medallists.

Boxer Sammy Lee stuck gold in the 2017 version in the Bahamas and then a year later was crowned Commonwealth champion at 81kg.

He has since been snapped up by the Team GB Olympic Podium squad and is now setting his sights on more gold in Tokyo next year.
"Sammy is a great example of the work that is being done here in Wales. We have worked hard to support Welsh Boxing in developing him as a person and an athlete and he is doing very well," added Lewis.

"We have to be very creative and very efficient with the money we are given and we have a great group of passionate and committed people doing all they can to support our athletes."

At the heart of that process is the work carried out by the Welsh Institute of Performance Science (WIPS), a collaboration of universities and Sport Wales set-up in 2016.

Swansea University leads the academic side of the new Institute, working with colleagues from Bangor, Cardiff, Cardiff Metropolitan and the University of South Wales.

"It is a unique partnership that is having a growing influence on performance in a number of sports. It made a good impact at the last Games and it will have an even bigger part to play in Birmingham in 2022," said Lewis.

"We get a lot out of it and a piece of work they did for Swim Wales on the bio-mechanics of underwater kicks was put to good use by the simmers at Gold Coast."

In the old amateur era of sport, Welsh athletes often won medals in spite of the organisation that surrounded them rather than because of it.

These days, with Helen Phillips at the helm as Chair, and Chris Jenkins as CEO, Commonwealth Games Wales (CGW) is a shining beacon of collaboration, commitment and innovation.
There is a plan, a clearly defined pathway for the sports and their competitors, and a fierce will to do what's best for the athletes.
The last two Commonwealth Games have set higher and higher standards for Team Wales - 36 medals overall at both Glasgow 2014 and Gold Coast 2018, with a record 10 golds in Australia.

Now, there is sufficient confidence in the process to begin to ponder on how many more there will be in Birmingham.
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Credit: Commonwealth Games Wales

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