Belfast Telegraph

TV Preview: Let the Commonwealth Games begin

It's been a disappointing summer for British sport, but things could perk up when the Commonwealth Games begin next week in Glasgow. Keeley Bolger gets the low-down from commentator Hazel Irvine.

While the carnival atmosphere around Glasgow during the Commonwealth Games fortnight might suggest otherwise, they're a “serious, serious business”, says BBC's Hazel Irvine. Especially with top-flight athletes like Usain Bolt and Mo Farah heading to Scotland to vie for victory.

“I think a lot of people may question the value of a gathering like this, but I've always been a great fan of it,” says the Scottish commentator.

“Not least because this is one of the few occasions where young athletes get the chance to experience a multi-sports, village environment before going to an Olympic Games, as the first one you go to is utterly overwhelming.”

Among those who've cut their sporting teeth at the Commonwealth Games in the past are Scottish runner Liz McColgan, who took gold in the 10,000 metres in Edinburgh in 1986, and Australian sprinter Cathy Freeman, who won gold in both the 200 and 400 metres in the 1994 Games in Canada.

Taking part in the Commonwealth Games gives rising sports stars “the confidence to go on and achieve more at the Olympic Games or the World Championships,” adds Irvine.

“So the Games are a very valuable set of medals on their own, as well as an important part of the learning curve in elite sport.”

If you don't have tickets to see the sporting stars go for gold, you can still soak up the action by tuning into the BBC's extensive coverage, starting on Wednesday, July 23 until Sunday, August 3.

To whet your appetite, here's a guide to the Games:

The teams

Compared to the 204 countries who sent athletes to the London Olympics, just 71 nations are taking part in the Commonwealth Games. As per previous Games, the United Kingdom will send separate home teams. But with so many home-grown heroes, Irvine reckons there will be plenty to celebrate all over the UK.

“There's potential for huge amounts of success everywhere you look around England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, and the Channel Islands,” says Irvine.

“Every corner of the United Kingdom has got fantastic possibilities. I think it'll be a great Games.”

Who to watch

Top sporting stars like Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, English runner Mo Farah and cyclist Sir Bradley Wiggins, along with Welsh cyclist Geraint Thomas and Scottish track and field athlete Eilidh Child are all set to appear, so it's no wonder the Commonwealth Games are big business.

Among the athletes who Irvine is pipping for potential podium success is Glaswegian swimmer Michael Jamieson, best known for winning the silver medal in the 200m breaststroke final at the London 2012 Olympics. “I'm really looking forward to seeing Michael, because he's competing on the first day of the competition itself and that is going to be a really big moment for Glasgow,” explains Irvine.

“Michael has identified the 2014 Games as one of the key aims of his whole career, because he used to train in the city of Glasgow, so it's a place close to his heart.”

As well as Jamieson, Irvine also thinks that Grenadian sprinter Kirani James, Australian swimmer Alicia Coutts and Kenyan distance runner David Rudisha, will all be on for sporting glory.

How to watch

The opening and closing ceremonies will be shown live from Glasgow's Celtic Park and Hampden Park stadiums respectively, with Gary Lineker taking on presenting duties alongside Clare Balding, Gabby Logan, Irvine and Huw Edwards.

The 11 days of Games will be shown across BBC One and BBC Three, as well as online and on the radio.

What's special about these games?

As well as drawing huge names like Bolt and Farah, the Games are also special in having the highest number of para-sport medals in Commonwealth history, with 22 up for grabs across five para-sports.

The para-events will be staged concurrently throughout the Games. And there are plenty of medal hopes from the UK, in the form of visually-impaired sprinter Jason Smyth from Northern Ireland, Welsh captain and discus thrower Aled Davies, Scottish cyclist Aileen McGlynn and English athlete David Weir.

There will also be the Commonwealth Games' first ever women's boxing event.

What's the atmoshpere going to be like?

No sporting event would be complete without the droves of supporters and, already, Glasgow is gearing up for a fantastic fortnight of sport.

“Glasgow has always been renowned as a friendly place,” says Irvine. “People are very giving of their time to tourists and you get a really good welcome. Glaswegians are really excited to have people here.”

What about all that rain?

“The weather is the only concern,” laughs Irvine. “We were all slightly concerned about Manchester (when they hosted the Games in 2002) because it had a bit of a fearsome reputation for rain as well, but it smiled on them, with the exception of the closing ceremony.

“And even when it was coming down in spades, it was still good fun. Everybody had a good laugh.”

Though Irvine is remaining chipper about the potential for downpours, she has noticed several very practical items in the Australian team's kit bags. “The Australians have come armed with some very nice waterproofs,” she laughs.

Food for thought

When thousands of athletes descend upon a city for an international sporting event, it's understandable that huge orders of food to help fuel their ambitions for stardom soon follow.

And with an expected 4,250 sports stars heading to Glasgow for this summer's Commonwealth Games, the Athletes Village is brimming with food.

Indeed, when the athletes aren't competing in the Games' 261 medal events, they might be found tucking in to an estimated 60,000 potatoes, 500,000 pieces of fruit and 25,000 litres of milk, served up in the Athletes' Village.

Coverage of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games begins on BBC One on Wednesday, 8pm

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