We all have sporting heroes and are inspired by their stories – how they reached the top of their game, what it’s like to perform at elite level, and what drives them on. Yet, it’s still hard to imagine what it takes to excel in any chosen sport, especially when that sport combines three different disciplines. So, as Triathlon weekend begins at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, it’s easy to see why so many people are out cheering on the competitors.
As a keen runner and with a husband and two boys who love cycling, the Triathlon is top of our list of sports to watch during the Games. The fact that it’s taking place in our home town, Sutton Coldfield, only adds to the excitement; so much so, we even cycled the running course earlier this week.
Our recce of the site gave a glimpse of the athlete and viewing zones being set up – the new platform on Powell’s Pool in Sutton Park where the 750m swim begins, the transition area for the 20km bike and the markers for the 5km run. We had a great time imagining ourselves in the athletes’ shoes while enjoying a quiet Sunday afternoon. On race weekend, the area is full of people, excitement and spectacle. There is a sense that this is one of those once-in-a-lifetime events to experience.
For day one, race one, we decided to get as close as possible to the start of the bike course – near Boldmere Gate of Sutton Park. On route, I had a similar feeling to that of going to a big concert or football match, with gradually more groups and families joining alongside us on foot, bike or scooter towards the venue. Everyone was in great spirits, brightened even further by the sunny weather, and all eager to find the best viewing spots to enjoy the day.
As the men’s race set off at 11.30am Friday morning, you could feel the excitement build in the crowd as we waited for a first glimpse of the group leaders. New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde and Taylor Reid looked strong from the start, as did Team England’s Alex Yee and Australia’s Mathew Hauser. The first athletes out of transition and onto the bike course flew past us at incredible speed. In the final stage, it proved a win for Alex Yee who passed Hayden Wilde in the final few metres – with a great high-five moment between the two, as Yee ran past and Hayden served a 10-second penalty from earlier in the race.
The women’s event saw the crowds swell even further after more people arrived from across the city. Supporters were out in force for the leading women tipped to be medal winners – the UK’s Georgia Taylor-Brown, Sophie Coldwell and Beth Potter, and Bermuda’s Flora Duffy. It proved a close-fought race and resulted in a brilliant finish, with top-ranked Duffy taking gold, Taylor-Brown winning silver for Team England and Potter a bronze for Scotland! All amazing female athletes it felt a privilege to watch in person.
Sutton Park is no stranger to sporting events, but few of us would have imagined seeing elites like Yee and Taylor-Brown biking and running along its paths. Our young people are being inspired by the very best of the world’s triathletes.
The legacy of this triathlon weekend will go well beyond the rankings on the medals board; it will have a lasting memory for our community. It will not only bring everyone together over a fantastic celebration of sport, but will inject more visitors and interest into the area and our historic Sutton Park – a site that dates back to Anglo-Saxon times, is a former royal deer park of Henry VIII, a second world war training ground for the Home Guard and now a 2,400-acre national Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific interest.
The investment into the Boldmere Gate area of the Park and the Triathlon’s athletes and visitor zones will also bring benefits for legacy events. We are likely to see it being used more for large-scale sporting events and will gain improved accessibility for visitors and additional disabled parking.
Every generation locally will have its own connection with Sutton Park, but the link with sport and family stand out for many of us ‘Suttonians’. When this once-in-a-lifetime event has gone, the area will continue to be a centre for recreation and sport – the annual 7 Pools Run and Royal Sutton Fun Run, the regular Park Runs and charitable events are just a few regular fixtures. All of these activities unite us through our sporting passions and are a reminder of the benefits and challenges sport brings.
I knew my eldest son William would be impressed by the competitiveness of the race and when I asked him what he thought of the day’s event he said: “I never knew anyone could swim that fast! They were speeding like motor boats through the water…” and “The run was really exciting… but I knew Alex Yee would win for us. We are the best!”
They, like many others their age, will I’m sure spring from the adrenaline high of Birmingham 2022 into joining the Sutton Coldfield Community Games that follows on 13 and 14 August. It’s an event that also has community at its heart and encourages health and happiness through getting involved in up to 20 different sports. With such a special sporting summer upon us due to the Games, will we see a future Jonny Brownlee, Adam Peaty, Bryony Smith or David Weir in the making?!