By Sam Holden and Michael Hann
The Glasgow Commonwealth Games proved to be much more than just ‘Friendly’ as Scottish culture, sport and six-time Olympic champion Usain Bolt combined to create a memorable 11-day event.
The success of the Games was assured with the golden seal of approval from Bolt, the world’s most recognisable athlete, whose cameo in Jamaica’s sprint relay triumph lit up Scotland’s biggest city.
Inevitably, Bolt stole the show, providing one of the images of the ‘Friendly Games’ as he returned home with a gold medal from his maiden Commonwealth appearance.
The Games provided few truly jaw-dropping sporting moments, but they will be remembered for the spirit in which athletes and visitors from the 71 Commonwealth nations and territories were greeted by crowds determined to enjoy the party.
“In my view, they are the standout Games in the history of the movement,” Commonwealth Games Federation chief executive Mike Hooper said.
“The way in which the people of Scotland and Glasgow have embraced the Games right from the get-go has been incredible.”
With England’s double Olympic champion Mo Farah pulling out, it was left to the world’s fastest man Bolt to provide the glamour and boost TV ratings but there was no shortage of quality on show, from the netball courts, to the judo mats, the swimming pool and the velodrome.
After reportedly making disparaging remarks about the Games, eight-time world champion Bolt did not disappoint when he finally arrived at the Hampden Park track to rapturous cheers from a capacity crowd.
“It’s always great to have fun with the fans. They made the Games what it was. They are so warm, even when I was cold they were always warm,” Bolt, the 100 and 200 metres world record holder, said of his time in Glasgow.
Having anchored Jamaica to victory in the 4×100 relay to give the crowd the result they craved, Bolt continued his Scottish charm offensive by donning a tartan hat and scarf while performing his ‘lightning bolt’ celebration and posing for selfies with ticket holders.
“I’m happy for the fans and I’m happy to get my Commonwealth gold medal. It (the Commonwealth Games) was always on my to-do list,” Bolt said. “Other than the weather it’s been brilliant.”
There were few incidents to mar the feast of sporting action but two failed drugs tests did cast a shadow.
Nigeria’s 16-year-old weightlifter Chika Amalaha was stripped of her gold medal after failing a doping test and Botswana’s former 400m world champion Amantle Montsho also tested positive for a banned substance.
But among the 6,500 athletes representing 71 mostly former British colonies, there were many heart-warming stories.
Kiribati celebrated its first Commonwealth medal after guitar-strumming David Katoatau won weightlifting gold while compatriot Taoriba Biniati fought another woman for the first time as women’s boxing made its Games debut.
Cyclist Muhammad I’maadi Abd Aziz, Brunei’s only athlete at the Games, enjoyed his lonely ride and the balti boys, Muzahir Shan and Mohammed Qureshi, co-owners of a curry house in Glasgow, formed part of Pakistan’s first lawn bowls team.
At the other end of the scale, Olympic champion Chad le Clos of South Africa secured the biggest individual medal haul of the Games with seven podium finishes in the pool, including two golds.
For Australia’s Sally Pearson, the Games offered a chance of redemption.
Vilified by Athletics Australia head coach Eric Hollingsworth for her decision to miss a pre-tournament training camp with her team mates in Glasgow, Pearson stormed to gold in the women’s 100m hurdles to defend the title she won in Delhi four years ago.
The Australian swimming team dominated, winning 57 of 133 medals on offer at the Tollcross Swimming Centre, and breaking the only world record during the Games in the women’s 4×100 freestyle relay, beating a time set by the Netherlands in the now-banned bodysuits in 2009.
The Australian team could not stop England topping the medals table with 58 golds, surpassing their arch-rivals for the first time since 1986 when the Games were last held in Scotland.
Among the gold rush for England was three-time world champion Nick Matthew, who resorted to ‘caveman’ tactics to retain his squash title in an epic final against compatriot James Wilstrop and secure the highest honour in a sport still excluded from the Olympic programme.
Diver Tom Daley successfully defended his 10m platform title with a stunning performance, combining power and finesse to add to the silver he won in the synchronised event.
At the Chris Hoy velodrome, Olympic cycling champion Laura Trott overcame a kidney infection to win the women’s 25km points race, but it was not all good news for England as 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins had to settle for silver on his return to the track in the team pursuit.
Cycling ended on the rainy streets of Glasgow on Sunday in the road race, where Welshman Geraint Thomas overcame a late puncture in treacherous conditions to claim gold and provide late drama on the last day of the Games.
Australia’s Gold Coast will host the Commonwealth Games in 2018. The south-eastern Queensland city has a lot to live up to.