Gold Coast 2018 was about more than the traditional starsNick Webb

Pushing boundaries, exceeding limits, surpassing expectations – these are all reasons why watching sport is inherently entertaining. This is fundamentally why we keep coming back for more. When it came to such moments of surprise, elation and joy, the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games certainly did not disappoint.

But what might we say about the competitors who must overcome obstacles beyond their immediate rivals? Some of the greatest moments in this year’s Commonwealth Games came from individuals and teams who are no strangers to adversity.

Undoubtedly, the most unforeseen gold of the Games went to the England netball team. The sole women-only sport in the Games, netball is often overlooked as a playground pastime. Despite being the sport which boasts the highest number of women participants in England, until May 2016 players received no salary for representing their home nation.

The gold provided the evidence that structural support is necessary if potential is to be met. Since netball’s Games debut in 1998, England have never progressed to the gold medal match. This year, having beaten Jamaica in nerve-wrecking fashion less than 24 hours prior, Tracey Neville’s team took on Australia for gold. With only the final quarter to go the Roses trailed, but a last second Helen Housby goal secured victory and gold. Relief and ecstasy was carved into the faces of the players.

It is only when major competitions provide opportunities for all to excel that adversity is truly tackled

With central contracts currently slated to last only until 2019, when England will host the World Cup, one hopes that the success of 2018 will make traditional struggles artefacts of the past. Opportunities such as those on offer at Gold Coast are crucial for an oft-forgotten sport to cement a place in the national psyche, and to be given the respect it already ought to have.

The Games set itself the target of delivering the most inclusive Games to date. True to their word, laid out was the largest integrated para-sport programme in Games history. With 300 para-athletes attending and 38 medal events, Gold Coast 2018 saw a 45% increase in para-athlete numbers and a 73% increase in medals on Glasgow’s Games in 2014.

Unlike the Paralympics, which is held after its able-bodied equivalent, the Olympics, the para-athletic competition in the Commonwealth Games takes place within the eleven days, in tandem with the able-bodied competition.

16 year-old medley swimmer Eleanor Robinson was called upon to compete in the Games as her debut for England. Despite previously achieving great success in the S6 category, Robinson opted to compete in the S7 category. In doing so, Robinson chose to compete with athlete who, in theory, are less disabled than her. A cautious Robinson opined before the Games that “all I can do is my best”. Her best proved quite enough.


Mountain View

Belgium versus Spain must be replayed

After a slow start in the S7 50m butterfly event, Robinson, with her trademark drive, ploughed through the pool to leave the competition in her wake. The young swimmer finished with a time of 35.73 seconds, 0.24 seconds outside the world record and almost two whole seconds ahead of Canadian Sarah Mehain. Upon claiming gold, the emotion overwhelmed Robinson who left the pool with tears streaming from her face. Already the recipient of the BBC’s Young Sports Personality of the Year in 2016, the future promises even greater things still for the young para-athlete.

With its unwavering commitment to a women-only event and to para-athletics, this year’s Commonwealth Games set itself apart from the Games of yesteryear. With great strides still required before full equality is reached in sport it is only when major competitions provide opportunities for all to excel that adversity is truly tackled. It then falls upon us to properly platform moments such as those above, and to recognize the boundaries which were overcame in making them possible. When we realize the significance of these achievements, individuals’ life-changing moments become game-changing moments. Only then can the steady journey to progress continue.

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