"It now gives me great pleasure to declare the twentieth Commonwealth Games, open." The crowd roared and a grand display of fireworks decorated the sky as Queen Elizabeth opened the 2014 Commonwealth Games last night in Celtic Park. Dance, music, the Loch Ness Monster, Scottish tea cakes and highland flings all played their part in the fun loving opening ceremony here in the city of Glasgow.
The stage was a spectacle of colour and rumour as the athletes took place in the centre of the arena, each team welcomed by a loud cheer from the audience. “Come on in Canada!” A sea of white and red appeared as the Canadian team entered the arena. Most noticeable were the tartan trousers worn by the athletes; representing Canada with a Scottish twang, what a clever detail. Also apparent was the absence of the Canadian swim team. With the swimming starting at 10:30 this morning, the swimmers made the sensible decision to get some rest before their races and save the celebrating for the closing ceremony.
And a wise decision it was! The Canadian team performed excellent during this morning’s heats, where Canada placed for four semi-finals and four finals, with the Women’s relay team qualifying in third place for the 4 x 100m Freestyle.
First in the water this morning from team Canada, for the 400m Individual Medley, were Emily Overholt, for whom the Games are the first test on a major international stage, and Erika Seltenreich-Hodgson. “It’s very nerve-wracking and exciting at the same time, but the nerves channel into even more excitement as you realise what a big deal it is opening an event like this,” said Erika, who was very pleased with her race as she swam her second ever best time. Marni Oldershaw who swam in the second heat felt “motivated to see Emily and Erika swim fast in the first race”. The swimmers placed third, fifth and eighth respectively for the finals tonight which are scheduled to start at 19:00.
World-class distance swimmer Ryan Cochrane, one of the most decorated Canadian swimmers of all time, followed in today’s second event; the Men’s 400m Freestyle. Cochrane, looking to defend the two gold medals he won at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in Delhi, placed second for the final, just after Australia’s David McKeon. Although it will be a tough swim tonight, Cochrane’s fate seems to be written in the…streets. Right in the heart of the city centre here in Glasgow is ‘Cochrane street’, located next to George Square, where the hustle and bustle of the Commonwealth Games has exploded into a frenzy of fans, tourists and Glaswegians hoping to get a picture with ‘The Big G’ after having visited the Commonwealth Games Flagship store. And so it only seems inevitable that Cochrane will excel at these games. Ryan himself said “it’s a bit more difficult now that there is more pressure, but I have a good swim under my belt and it’s going to be a heartfelt one tonight.”
Katerine Savard of Pont-Rouge, Que., is currently ranked third in the world in the 100m Butterfly and headed into Glasgow as the fastest swimmer in the Commonwealth at that distance. She qualified in second place for the semi-finals this evening and walked out of the pool with a big smile as she said; “I love swimming this race, it’s my best stroke. The competition is tough but I’ll be swimming my own race and will give it my all.”
Katerine has it right; the Canadian swimmers will face some tough competition here in Glasgow. Britain, South Africa and New Zealand have put some of their top talent in the pool and Australia has sent a team of 46 athletes. Exciting to watch will be the 4 x 100m Freestyle relay for which Australia has qualified first with a new Games Record at 3:34:57. “We hope to give that world record a crack tonight,” said Melanie Schlanger from team Australia. Victoria Poon, Sandrine Mainville, Michelle Williams and Alyson Ackman seemed professional and level-headed when asked about the relay final; “We had agreed to not go too hard, but to make sure to secure a spot for tonight. So hopefully tonight we will race even better,” said a calm and collected Victoria Poon.
Also qualified tonight are Tera van Beilen, going in
fifth for the Women’s 50m Breaststroke semi-final, Russell Wood, qualified as
sixth for the 100m Backstroke semi-final, and Coleman Allen and Gamal Assaad,
who qualified in tenth place and thirteenth place for the Men’s 50m Butterfly semi-final respectively.
The team that plunged into the pool this morning is largely a young group with many members experiencing their first senior international competition, and this is evident from the excitement felt in talking to the individual swimmers. Eight of the 32 swimmers are under 20 years old and 25 are competing in their first Commonwealth Games. “This team is having great exposure and opportunity at the Commonwealth Games, and will be the backbone of Canadian teams for the next six years,” said John Atkinson, Swimming Canada high performance director. “I expect medals.”
As do we! Let’s see what the finals have in store tonight.