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Canada is sending 270-plus athletes to compete in 18 able-bodied and five Para sports in Birmingham, England. The 22nd edition of the Games kicks off there Thursday with the opening ceremony for the 72 countries and territories involved (watch it live at 3 pm ET on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem). The Canadian team is aiming for another top-three finish in total medals after placing third at the previous two Games, in 2018 in Australia and 2014 in Scotland.
Several of Canada’s Summer Olympic stars are in Birmingham, including swimmers Maggie Mac Neil, Kylie Masse and 15-year-old phenom Summer McIntosh, who recently won two individual gold medals and a silver at the World Aquatics Championships (McIntosh dropped one of her events today). Also competing in the pool are 19-year-old Josh Liendo, who won a pair of individual bronze and a relay silver at worlds, and five-time Paralympic champion Aurélie Rivard. Penny Oleksiak did not make the trip, and neither did Taylor Ruck, who won a record-tying eight medals at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. Mac Neil, the Olympic champion in the women’s 100m butterfly, was initially going to swim only in relays but is now planning to do individual events.
In track and field, Olympic champs Andre De Grasse and Damian Warner are out, along with decathlete Pierce LePage and 800m runner Marco Arop, who both captured medals at the world championships last week. Tokyo Olympic race walk bronze medallist Evan Dunfee will compete in Birmingham, but 5,000m silver medallist Moh Ahmed won’t. Aaron Brown and Jerome Blake, who won gold with De Grasse in the men’s 4x100m at worlds, are skipping the Games, but their teammate Brendon Rodney is in England. So is hammer thrower Camryn Rogers, who took silver at worlds, and shot putter Sarah Mitton, who placed fourth.
Reigning Olympic champions Maude Charron (weightlifting) and Kelsey Mitchell (track cycling) are among the standout Canadian entries in other sports. For more Canadian athletes to watch, go back and read yesterday’s newsletter and/or this story.
So that sets the stage for this year. But how much do you know about Canada’s history in the Commonwealth Games? From hosting the very first edition, to staging one of the most famous foot races in history, to rising to the top of the medal standings, Canada boasts a pretty rich past at this quadrennial event for countries of the old British Empire. Here are some of the highlights:
All you need is $30,000 and a dream
The event we know today as the Commonwealth Games was the brainchild of a Canadian. Bobby Robinson, a sportswriter for the Hamilton Spectator who moonlighted as a track and official field, returned from the 1928 Olympics in Amsterdam determined to organize something like it for just the countries tied to Great Britain. The idea had been floating around for decades, and once the city of Hamilton agreed to kick in $30,000 (roughly half a million bucks in today’s money) to cover travel expenses for the 400 athletes coming from 11 countries, the first-ever British Empire Games were set for August 1930 in southern Ontario.
Hamilton built a new venue for the occasion: Civic Stadium (later renamed Ivor Wynne Stadium) was the epicentre of the Games, hosting the opening ceremony and many of the events. A makeshift athletes village was set up next door at Prince of Wales School, where competitors slip two dozen to a classroom.
Six sports comprised the original program: athletics, boxing, lawn bowls, rowing, wrestling and aquatics (diving and swimming). Except for aquatics, they were only for men. Canada’s Percy Williams won the 100-yard dash in 9.9 seconds — actually lower than South African Akani Simbine’s winning time in the 100m final in 2018, though 100 yards is only about 91 metres.
Among the 11 countries participating was Newfoundland, at the time a self-governing British Dominion. Newfoundland did not win any medals in 1930 or 1934 before surrendering its independent status to compete as part of Team Canada starting in 1938.
Hosts with the most
Hamilton is hoping to host again in 2030, the 100th anniversary of the inaugural Games. That would be the fifth time the Games have been held in Canada. As it stands, Canada has hosted more times than any other country except Australia, which will stage the Games for the sixth time in 2026.
Vancouver hosted in 1954, when the event became known as the British Empire and Commonwealth Games. The present Commonwealth Games name was first used in 1978, when Edmonton hosted and Canada topped the medal table for the only time. Victoria hosted in 1994, when Canada had its biggest medal haul (134, including 42 gold) but finished second to Australia (186, 89).
At the most recent Commonwealth Games, in 2018 in Australia, Canada captured 82 medals — 15 gold, 40 silver, 27 bronze. That was good for fourth place in the official standings and third in total medals.
A (13-year-old) star is born
The most successful individual diver in Canadian history, Alex Despatie won two Olympic silvers, three world titles and nine Commonwealth gold medals before retiring in 2013. But it all started at the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Malaysia, where Despatie made his first splash (or, in this case, very little splash at all) on the international stage by winning gold in the men’s 10m platform as a 13-year-old. Get the whole story behind this remarkable moment by reading this oral history by CBC Sports’ Myles Dichter.
The ‘Miracle’ in Vancouver
The 1954 Vancouver Games are remembered for the famous “Miracle Mile” showdown at Empire Stadium. Just three months after becoming the first person in history to run the mile in under four minutes, English medical student Roger Bannister went toe-to-toe with John Landy of Australia, who in the meantime had eclipsed Bannister’s world record by running a 3: 57.9.
In the first-ever race featuring multiple sub-four-minute millers, Landy opened up a sizable lead in front of 35,000 fans and many more watching on the CBC TV network. But Bannister dug deep and chased down his rival on the final corner. Just as Landy glanced over his inside shoulder to check on Bannister’s progress, the Englishman zipped through Landy’s blindspot on the outside to overtake him and win the race.
Bannister was so exhausted as he crossed the finish line in 3:58.8 that he collapsed into the arms of his coach. Landy’s 3:59.6 — a time that many people thought was not humanly possible just a few months earlier — was good for only the silver medal. Canadian Richard Ferguson got the bronze in 4:04.6. Watch the entire Miracle Mile race here.
How to watch this year’s Games:
The opening ceremony will be streamed live on CBCSports.ca, the CBC Sports app and CBC Gem on Thursday at 3 pm ET. Starting Friday at 3:30 am ET, those digital platforms will feature six daily streaming feeds of live events. Also, the CBC TV network will carry 10 hours of weekend broadcast coverage hosted by Scott Russell and Andi Petrillo. See the full CBC Sports broadcast and streaming schedule here for more details.