The Commonwealth Games and Athletics go hand in hand – in fact, it is one of the founding sports of the Games and has appeared consistently since its introduction at the 1911 Inter-Empire Games (the recognised precursor to the Commonwealth Games).
In 1911, teams from Australia, Canada, South Africa and the UK participated to win the prize – a trophy in the form of a silver cup. In that year, the overall winning team was Canada.
Not too dissimilar to what we’re used to watching at the Commonwealth Games today, the sports on the programme were Boxing, Wrestling, Swimming and, of course, Athletics.
Through the ages
Following on from the Inter-Empire Games, the official Commonwealth Games was born in 1930 – although it only got its current name during the 1978 Games in Edmonton, Canada. Before then it was better known as the British Empire Games.
In 1930, 11 countries competed in the Games – England, Wales, Ireland, Australia, Bermuda, British Guiana, Canada, Newfoundland (now part of Canada), New Zealand, Scotland and South Africa. England topped the leader board with 61 medals and Canada came in a close second with 54 medals.
As the years went on more countries and sports joined the Games, more medals were awarded and more athletes were born. Still, despite names changes and decades between, one thing still remained consistent – Athletics.
In fact, while the 1930 Games was strictly men only, it was Athletics that saw women compete for the first time in the 1934 Games. The women’s running events were restricted to short sprints and a shortened 4 x 220 yard relay instead of the 4 x 440 yard relay as per the men’s programme. Despite this, it was a breakthrough for women in sport that would one day lead to full recognition and programming for women’s Athletics on the international stage.
Welcome to Alexander Stadium: the home of UK Athletics
There couldn’t be a more fitting place for the Athletics to be held for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games than Alexander Stadium. It is the official home of UK Athletics and has had a recent revamp ready for the Games. Post-Games it will revert to a permanent capacity of around 18,000, the largest permanent facility capable of hosting major athletics in the UK. The stadium also champions women in sport and has named one of its stands – the Nelson – after Dorothy Nelson Neal OBE who was influential in the early days of women’s Athletics in the UK and was awarded the OBE for services to Athletics.
Over the course of the Games, the people of Birmingham and beyond turned out in their thousands to support all the Athletics athletes. They were able to witness many highlights such as Jamaica’s Shanieka Ricketts setting a new Commonwealth Games record in the Women’s triple jump – joining one of many Athletics records that have been made at the Commonwealth Games over the years.
As Birmingham 2022 closed, it was wonderful to see the support that the attendees have given to Athletics and it is exciting to see where the legacy goes from here. In addition to being the base for UK Athletics following the Games, Alexander Stadium will also be home to 1,000 Birmingham City University Sport Science students, as well as a community venue to support local athletics opening in 2023. “The Games for Everyone” has focussed on helping to grow the region, improving health and wellbeing, bringing people together, being a catalyst for change and putting Birmingham and the West Midlands on a global stage – a legacy that will far outlast 2022. A lot might have changed over the past 111 years but one thing remains, sports such as Athletics can truly captivate an audience and bring people together.