Canadians enjoy Gold Coast Games even if medal haul didn't meet expectations
Canada's flag-bearer diver Meaghan Benfeito walks into Carrara Stadium as Canadian athletes take part in the Parade of Nations Commonwealth Games 2018 opening ceremony in Gold Coast, Australia on April 4, 2018. (Ryan Remiorz / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press
Published Monday, April 16, 2018 7:42AM EDT
GOLD COAST, Australia -- While Canada fell well short of its goal of 100-plus medals at the Commonwealth Games, team officials say the true test of the Gold Coast Games will come two years from now at the Tokyo Olympics.
Lessons learned here should pay off in 2020, said Canadian chef de mission Claire Carver-Dias.
"It's intelligence," said Carver-Dias, a former synchronized swimmer who won medals at the Olympic, Commonwealth and Pan American Games. "You're gathering data.
"And people underestimate the Commonwealth Games," she continued. "We're chronically underfunded. But it is listed as a milestone in the performance pathway and athletes keep saying these games are important. It's a checkpoint ... Olympians are going to benefit from being here."
Carver-Dias' words are undoubtedly true. But like the Commonwealth itself, the question-mark over the relevance of the so-called Friendly Games seems to grow every four years.
Supporters point to the games' inclusivity, with gender medal equality and para-events as part of the program. Here they also noted the games' reconciliation action plan with Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
After some bold talk of a triple-digit medal haul, Canada had to wait until the final day of competition to match its total of 82 from four years ago in Glasgow. A poor finale by the Canadian women's rugby sevens team Sunday meant a possible medal No. 83 -- a bronze -- now belongs to England.
Thanks to an unexpected men's basketball silver, Canada finished with 15 gold, 40 silver and 27 bronze. While the total number of medals did not change from Glasgow, the number of golds plummeted from 31 to 15.
Canada finished third in total medals behind Australia's 198, including 80 gold and England's 136 (45 of which were gold). But it was fourth when it came to golds with India, which had 66 total medals, collecting 16.
Track and field, not helped by the late withdrawal of sprinter Andre De Grasse, was down to 13 medals from 17. A young rhythmic gymnastics team won two medals, down from six in 2014. Wrestling was down from 12 to 10 with head coach Tonya Verbeek seeing the need to revamp some things in the wake of a few spotty performances.
But led by 17-year-old Taylor Ruck's eight medals (1-5-2) -- tying a games record -- swimming won 20 medals compared to 11 in Glasgow. And boxing produced six medals, double the output four years ago.
When Damian Warner stumbled in the decathlon, Pierce LePage stepped up to the podium. Haley Smith overtook Emily Batty to take mountain bike bronze.
While the peaks seemed to cancel out the valleys, Canadian team officials will be studying the numbers and performances to see why Own The Podium's projection of some 100 medals -- the actual number was 112 but they wanted to dampen expectations -- wasn't met.
The youth of the Canadian team, the power of Team Australia and a spate of fourth-place finishes -- the lawns bowls team had five alone -- were cited as some of the reasons.
On the plus side, no Canadian athlete got tanked up and borrowed a Hummer.
And there was plenty to celebrate. Joanna Brown rallied from a fractured shoulder to win triathlon bronze. Maude Charron, a relative newcomer to weightlifting, hoisted gold. Ellie Black, with two gold and a silver, was a class act in gymnastics.
Canada's women ruled the sand in the games debut of beach volleyball, with the men talking silver in a thriller. Backstroker Kylie Masse followed up her 2017 world title with double individual gold and a relay silver. Wrestler Diana Weicker, a mother of two and part-time pediatric nurse, won gold.
Wheelchair racer Diane Roy, at 47, won bronze. And 20-year-old boxer Thomas Blumenfeld, marked by welts, proudly put his body on the line to earn silver.
Diver Jennifer Abel bounced back from a disaster in the synchronized three-metre springboard to win gold in the individual event. And let's not forget 70-year-old shooter Robert Pitcairn, the oldest competitor ever at the Commonwealth Games.
Canadian women won 51 of the 82 medals.
But the show belonged to Australia. The home team won 73 medals, including 28 gold, in the swimming pool alone.
Australia soared into top spot in the medal standings with 198 (80-59-59), up from 137 (49-42-46) four years ago when it finished second to England. But it didn't improve its own record at Melbourne in 2006 when the host nation won 221 medals, including 84 gold.
England slipped to second spot at the Gold Coast with 136 (45-45-46), down from 174 (58-59-67) in Glasgow.
Canadian team officials noted the discrepancy in government sport funding between Australia and Canada -- $415 million and $207 million, respectively, in fiscal 2017-18. They also said the home team benefited from a $15.5-million Australian government "top-up" in 2017 that was more than nine times the budget of the entire Canadian team.
The heavyweights didn't hog all the medals.
The British Virgin Islands, Dominica, Cook Islands, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands all won medals for the very first time at a games. But 13 of the 71 nations that competed here will have to wait for more years to hunt for a first-ever medal.
The sports were well-attended, with locals in the majority. The fact that most of the spectators were Australian added to the atmosphere in the venues if not the streets. People went to the venues and they went home.
Other than a transportation glitch for the public at the opening ceremonies, there were few complaints. The games were well-organized with an army of cheery volunteers.
"They were incredible games," said Canada's assistant chef de mission Benoit Huot. "The organizing committee delivered. The people from the Gold Coast and Australians were proud to receive those games and we felt it."
Huot, a former elite swimmer, has been to 16 multisports games, between the Olympics, Paralympics, Pan Ams and Commonwealth Games, "and I can say it's in the top three, easy."
The big winner at the end of the day may be the Gold Coast, with its constant sunshine and beautiful beaches. Queensland's slogan of 'Beautiful One Day, Perfect The Next" was well-chosen, although the marathoners may have a different take on the heat that left some literally out on their feet.
One month after the chill of the Pyeongchang Games, reporters here were gifted tubes of suncreen by smiling volunteers.
The aptly named Surfers Paradise managed to combine the best and worst of Las Vegas, Florida and Niagara Falls.
"It's hard not to have a good time on The Gold Coast," said Erica Wiebe, champion wrestler and Canadian flag-bearer. "There's beaches, there's koalas, there's sun. It's absolutely a dream."
Birmingham, England, will be hard-pressed to surpass the scenery Down Under in 2022.
Commonwealth Games Canada hopes to host the 2030 games, marking the 100th anniversary of the inaugural competition held in Hamilton.