What Are the Commonwealth Games—And Why Should Triathletes Care?
A sporting event forged from a colonial past featuring a potpourri of nations seems like an odd idea. But when it comes to triathlon, these "Friendly Games" are a really big deal.
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The Commonwealth Games kicks off today [Thursday] in Birmingham, UK with triathlon taking pride of place as the first medal event tomorrow. While it might not mean a great deal to even the most devoted sports fans Stateside, the Commies, as plenty of athletes affectionately if somewhat unfortunately call them, are a big, nay, huge deal in the world of swim, bike, and run.
When interviewing Great Britain’s Olympic gold medal winners Georgia Taylor-Brown, Alex Yee, and Jonny Brownlee (who is unfortunately absent with a broken elbow and wrist) at the start of the year, the Commonwealth Games’ one-off sprint distance event and mixed team relay that follows were cited as the #1 goal for the season. Not the World Series nor Olympic qualification points. Not Ironman nor any of the big money PTO Tour events. No, it was the chance of Commonwealth Games glory that piqued their interest the most.
Why? Well, there’s good reason and then there’s less good reason.
The Commonwealth Games were started in 1930 as the somewhat more imposing British Empire Games, which—without getting too geopolitical—is probably a bit of a tell for prevailing attitudes of the time.
At its best, let’s say it celebrates the decolonization of said Empire, with a charter that classes all 72 nations as “free and equal,” including tiny Nauru, with a population of just 13,000. In short, everyone speaks English and we’ve got history. At its worst, then we’re paying homage to a rotten past with a 21st Century anachronism. You pays your money—or you don’t—and make your choice.
But the sport can be fun and there’s loads to revel in. More than 5,000 athletes and 280 events in 20 sports from lawn bowls to squash. It runs for 12 days, the showpiece arena being Birmingham’s renovated Alexander Stadium, with a “Games For Everyone” motto. It’s also commonly called the Friendly Games, although whether that’ll still be the case when triathletes are being clubbed around the first turn-buoy we shall see.
And when it comes to triathlon, as per our aforementioned Brits, most of the eligible athletes tend to get quite excited. Here are a few reasons why:
It’s a big show. It’s the Olympics in miniature, replete with baton relays and esoteric opening and closing ceremonies. Commonwealth Triathlon captures the non-tri crowd in a way the rest of our sport doesn’t. Wrapping it in the blanket of a global Games helps its stature. Tickets for Birmingham have sold out, non tri-diehards will tune in to watch. In the UK it’s live on the free-to-air BBC, along with on-demand and online offerings. It transcends swim, bike and run and gives the athletes a platform.
It’s powerhouse competition… While the USA and a good chunk of Europe are absent, there are still many of the best triathletes in the world competing. As well as the British nations, we’ve got Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and South Africa. Twenty of the 36 individual Olympic medals to date have gone to Commonwealth athletes, and of the current best in the world in World Triathlon competition, the top two men, Hayden Wilde and Yee, and women, Flora Duffy and Taylor-Brown, come from Commonwealth nations.
… that should be thrilling. Rivalries make sport and Wilde v. Yee, and Duffy v. the Brits, chief among them Taylor-Brown, Sophie Coldwell, and Beth Potter (the home nations are split into England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) could both be classics.
It champions the mixed relay. The mixed relay made its Commonwealth bow in 2014 in Glasgow—seven years before its successful Olympic debut, where it was rightly lauded as one of the most exciting events of the Games. The success of that relay in Strathclyde Park was seen as instrumental in securing the extra medal event at the Olympics. And this time, for the first time, the women will be on the anchor.
It’s inclusive. While it showcases the elite competition, it also gives smaller Commonwealth nations the chance to have a go. This means you get triathletes such as Brandon Santos from Belize, Guernsey’s Josh Lewis, or even Gibraltar’s Chris Walker, who had turned 50 when he competed on Gold Coast four years ago and finished a more than respectable 29th.
It integrates paratri with non-para sport. While this Commonwealth Games will only have two paratriathlon categories—the visually impaired divisions for men and women—as opposed to eight in the Tokyo Paralympics, the paratri will run as part of the Commonwealth program before the mixed relay on the Sunday, not as a completely different event much later. It’s the right way to do it.
It’s a neat fit for triathlon. In 2018, the Commonwealths became the first global Games to feature an equal number of men’s and women’s medal events. That’s a very triathlon-y thing to do too—although quite what took so long is another question.
It’s once every four years. Like the Olympics, the scarcity adds a little extra cache.
This will be the third time England has played hosts, after the original bidding cities, Edmonton in Canada and Durban in South Africa, pulled out.
Triathlon’s official Commonwealth debut was in 2002 in Manchester, although it was run as a demonstration event in Auckland, New Zealand in 1990, where home hopes Erin Baker and Rick Wells took the spoils. It has now been upgraded to one of 15 core sports, meaning it can’t be axed from the program as it was for Delhi 2010.
The United Kingdom being split into England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also means you get Potter (Scotland) and Non Stanford (Wales) in action and not fighting for selection with England’s trio Georgia Taylor-Brown, Sophie Coldwell, or Sian Rainsley. Basically, you just get a whole heap of really good Brits on show.
How to watch the 2022 Commonwealth Games
If you’re in the UK, you can watch the action on BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Three, BBC iPlayer, and through the BBC Red Button—basically anything BBC.
Unfortunately, if you’re in the U.S., there’s no American broadcaster taking the coverage, which leaves the only alternative to use a VPN service, which allows you to change your IP address so you can appear to be anywhere in the world. The Olympic Channel will also feature a nightly recap show for U.S. viewers at 6 p.m. ET, also on NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app. You can see all the international broadcasters here.
When does the racing take place?
Friday, July 29:
- Men’s individual race: 11 a.m. local time (6 a.m. ET in the U.S.)
- Women’s individual race: 2.30 p.m. local time (9:30 a.m. ET in the U.S.)
Sunday, July 31:
- PTVI men’s race: 11 a.m. local time (6 a.m. ET in the U.S.)
- PTVI women’s race: 11.05 a.m. local time (6:05 a.m. ET in the U.S.)
- Mixed team relay: 2.30 p.m. local time (9:30 a.m. ET in the U.S.)