To continue the celebration of sport at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games I took my front row spot at the start of the Marathon, which took place yesterday (Saturday 30 July) at the Smithfield Festival Site.
The Marathon’s 18km loop (completed twice) around Birmingham, highlighted the bold city on a global stage – showcasing the very best of Brum. We saw our own home team, as well as international athletes race around a series of twisting circuits across the city. The key locations included the Chinese Quarter, Gay Village, Bournville and Cannon Hill Park, with final treks through Centenary and Victoria Square – where even the Bull from the Opening Ceremony on display couldn’t steal the spotlight from the battling athletes.
The day had just begun and at 6:30am the para-athletes were getting ready for the Men’s T53/54 wheelchair marathon. Having only ever watched a major marathon on TV, it was great to get a behind the scenes exclusive. Hearing the coaches guiding their athletes through the route, preparing them for the big hour ahead was inspiring – a true insight into what it takes to be a professional athlete. You could feel the almost angst coming from the coaches, and I could sense the pressure they were feeling just by standing next to them. The athletes on the other hand looked calm and composed, smiling to the crowds that had gathered to support them and chatting to each other, with one paraathlete joshing another before setting off a few seconds earlier for the warm-up lap.
At the start line I was expecting an intense atmosphere, but the camaraderie between all the athletes from the different nations and territories was heart-warming. It was a perfect resonation of the purpose and heart of the Commonwealth Games – the aim to unite the Commonwealth family through a glorious festival of sport.
The Marathon was the perfect example of how the Commonwealth Games really does bring nations together, not just the athletes but the people that gather to watch and support their countries. At the start line of the Men’s Marathon, I found myself in a crowd of non-Brummies, and I was surprised to be stood next to Kenyan coaches, a family from Northern Ireland and a group donning bright yellow hoodies showcasing the Australian flag. It was surreal to have so many different people, from different places all within 10 feet of each other. Even for Birmingham which is a true archetype of a mutli-cultural city, with the largest ethnic minority population in the country, it was a picture of diversity.
As Gowling WLG is an Official Sponsor of Team England, I was of course supporting our hometown heroes, but being from an ethnic minority, I was also cheering on athletes from the different nations. Throughout the day I was taking and sending pictures and videos to friends and family. I snapped a picture of Kenyan runners Michael Githae and Jonathan Kipleting Korir during their warm-up before the big race, and sent it to my parents, both of whom were born in Kenya. It was great to be able to show them some of their home country right here in the centre Birmingham. And most of all let them know that I was also showing my support while also connecting with their roots.
And it wasn’t just me, everyone in the crowd cheered for all the athletes. The cheers coming from the finish line were exhilarating. From the Ugandan winner Victor Kiplangat, to Australia’s Andrew Buchanan, to our own Team England’s Jonathan Mellor, the reaction for everyone crossing the finish line was exactly the same – whether they came first or fifth – it was continuous clangour from the crowds.
At the end of the day, I realised that all these people didn’t gather at 7am on a Saturday just to see the marathon. It’s more than just the sport, it’s about coming together. No matter which of the 72 nations and territories you are from, the people of Birmingham will cheer you on, bang on the barriers with all their might and wave your flag with pride – while welcoming anyone on to the well-earned finish line. Not only did the marathon showcase the best of Brum’s landmarks and city spots, it proudly proclaimed the best of its people, culture and community – and signify that sport really is just the beginning.