The 5 unlikeliest heroes of the Commonwealth Games

The 5 unlikeliest heroes of the Commonwealth Games


The Commonwealth Games have often been overlooked as a major sporting competition due to two interconnected factors: in the first instance, at least when compared to other sporting events, the Commonwealth is an unusual geographical field from which to allow athletes to compete. Whilst competition between England and  neighbouring Wales, Scotland and Northern Island merits notice, can there really be any tangible international rivalry between England and Kiribati, for example? 

It is partly due to this purported arbitrariness of the athletic field at the games that many see a Commonwealth gold to hold far less gravitas than a World or Olympic gold; to this can be added the fact that this year there is an apparent dearth of the biggest names: eligible and notable absentees include Mo Farah, Yohan Blake, Jessica Ennis, and (at least in the individual events) Usain Bolt. Though such absences have arguably weakened the strength of their respective disciplines, they have allowed for athletes to emerge whose stories might otherwise have gone unnoticed. Rather than produce a nationally-biased, medal-biased list of heroes of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, it seems better to take the opportunity offered by such a competition to shine a light on some of the more unlikely heroes, whose very participation on the Commonwealth stage should sufficiently prove its worth to anyone who considers the mantra of Pierre De Coubertin – considered the father of the modern Olympics – that ‘the essential thing in life is not conquering but fighting well’ as integral to the spirit of modern athletic competition.


Steve Way

Steve Way

Way has enjoyed a barrage of media coverage in the past few days, which his story entirely warrants. In 2007, at 16-and-a-half-stone, a heavy smoker and drinker, and self-confessedly wandering from one day to the next, Way decided to start running and by the next year had completed the London marathon in 2:35.26, finishing in 100th place. A few years of training later (whilst working 9-5 at a bank), Way qualified for the Commonwealth Games having completed the 2014 marathon in 2:16.27, coming in 15th place. He hadn’t trained for the race itself and at the start of the day had only intended to take the marathon as an easy warm-up for the UK 100km Championships later in the year (which he won by 46 minutes). His three goals for the Commonwealth Games marathon were to finish in the top 10, achieve a personal best, and beat the British veteran’s record, all of which he accomplished. Though such a dramatic improvement is helped by a clear natural aptitude for long-distance running, his story serves as a broader demonstration of the ability for self-improvement at any age.


Taoriba Biniati


Biniati, who competed in the women’s flyweight boxing, is a resident of Kiribati, a Pacific island whose population numbers a little over 100,000. Before the Glasgow games, the 18-year-old had never previously left the island and received funding for her trip from the Kiribati government and the Commonwealth Games Federation. The selection process was explained by the Kiribati team official Derek Andrewartha: “She qualified because she is the best female boxer in our country – based on being the only one”. Biniati trained in Kiribati using a punch bag hanging from a breadfruit tree, had only taken up boxing last year, and had never entered a boxing gym before arriving in Glasgow; moreover, until her first round loss against the Mauritian Isabelle Ratna, she had never fought with another woman, as Andrewartha explained: “She has to spar with the boys, and the problem is they’re too shy to hit her”.


Rosefelo Siosi


Siosi, a 5000m runner hailing from the Solomon Islands, finished his race two-and-a-half laps behind the winner Caleb Mwangangi Ndiku. Though his time would put him slower than the fastest under-14s in the Commonwealth, his closing laps form an enduring image, one which is – almost without fail – seen in at least one race at every international athletics event, and one which perhaps comes closest to symbolising Coubertin’s philosophy on athletic competition. He completed his two final laps on his own in terms of his fellow runners, but with the help of the wall of noise created by the 40,000 strong Hampden Park crowd, most of whom would not have even known his name before the race. Despite being lapped three times, the 17-year-old kept running to the race’s completion, achieving a national record in the process. His attitude is one to be admired: “I almost gave up, but the crowd were shouting, ‘Go! Go!’, so I had to finish the race. I’m privileged to compete against the fastest people in the world”.


Prakash Nanjappa


Although Nanjappa had to endure the heartbreak of missing out on the men’s 10m air pistol gold by a single point, the 38-year-old has made a remarkable comeback since July 2013, during which he suffered a facial paralytic attack whilst competing in the World Cup in Granada. Diagnosed with Bell’s palsy, he was quoted in The Hindu as saying: “I was initially worried as the eye is the most crucial organ for a shooter. . . . I read up about it and realised that it was a condition that would last a maximum of six months’. He was back in training in a month-and-a-half (at the time the National Rifle Association of India secretary Rajiv Bhatia asserted that “though he has been discharged by the doctors, he [has been] asked strictly to keep off the ranges”. After three months he won silver in the 50m free pistol shooting event at the Asian Air Gun Championship, and now, nearly a year later, he has, against all the odds both medical and sporting, won a silver medal in the 2014 Commonwealth Games.


Jason Smyth


Initially, there may seem to be nothing markedly impressive about Smyth finishing fifth in the 100m heats, until you realise that he is legally blind. Though the Northern Ireland athlete suffers from Stargardt’s disease, with which he has just 10% of what is considered to be normal vision, he only missed out on the qualification standard of the able-bodied 100m for the 2012 Olympics by 0.04 seconds. Indeed, he explained to Able Magazine the reasons behind his desire to compete alongside able-bodied athletes: “For me, it’s about being as best as I can possibly be and I don’t restrict myself to what I can be”. His participation alongside able-bodied athletes at these games is representative of Glasgow’s broader successful integration of the para-sport programme with the main schedules. The para-sports events medals count towards the national medal tallies and the para-sports are interspersed temporally with the able-bodied events. Smyth is one of a few athletes who have successfully bridged the gap between para-sport and able-bodied events, silencing anyone doubting the elite calibre of those eligible for para-sport.


The 5 biggest stories of the Commonwealth Games

The 5 biggest stories of the Commonwealth Games

England dominate the team gymnastics



As the crowds gathered inside the brand new SSE Hydro arena to see the days gymnastics, there were high hopes surrounding both the male and female English teams – but few could have predicted the extent of their domination.


The men took to the floor first and the team made up of Olympians, Max Whitlock, Kristian Thomas, Sam Oldham and Louis Smith MBE as well as Junior European all-around champion Nile Wilson were forced to draw on all of their experience at the highest level early on as Sam Oldham was rushed to hospital after a nasty landing from the vault. The men rallied, with Whitlock and Wilson in exceptional form, and Team England won with a fantastic score of 266.804 points, despite Oldham’s absence forcing him out of two of the rotations on the vault.


A strong Scottish team featuring 2012 stars Dan Purvis and Dan Keatings put on an inspired performance in front a loud home crowd and secured a silver medal with a team score of 257.603 points.


Next up, the women took to the arena, with Rebecca Downie, Ruby Harrold, Claudia Fragapane, Kelly Simm and Hannah Whelan representing the English. Like their male counterparts, the women were forced to show all of their quality in the later stages of the competition as a nervous start, in particular on the beam, meant that a gold medal place was far from certain. In a team that featured senior Olympians Hannah Whelan and Becky Downie as well as GB squad member Kelly Simm, it was the 16 year old Claudia Fragapane who produced the display of the afternoon and held her nerve to put in a performance of the highest quality both on the beam and on the floor to secure a gold medal after a team total of 167.555 points.


While the Australians impressed with a score of 161.546 points, enough for the silver medal, they were ran all the way to the wire by the Welsh, a team made up of Raer Theaker, Lizzie Beddoe, Jessica Hogg, Angel Romaeo and Georgina Hockenhull came impossibly close to the silver medal but had to settle from bronze despite an impressive 160.095 points.


Springboks end All Blacks Sevens run



Rugby Sevens, a sport being planned for its first time inclusion at the Rio Olympics in 2016, was under close inspection by the organisers and it did not disappoint. The teams from the southern-hemisphere were dominant with New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and Samoa all progressing to the semi-finals and England, Wales and Scotland crashing out at the quarter final stage.


The All-Blacks were understandably the favourites going into the final against South Africa having won their last 30 matches at the Commonwealth Games and the top prize at every Games since the sport’s introduction in 1998. Despite a strong start from New Zealand with Sherwin Stowers scoring, it was through Seabelo Senatia that the Springboks forced their way back into the tie and taking a 12-7 lead early in the second half. The memorable upset was secured by the flying back Cecil Afrika who scored the final try which was enough to fight off the late All Black resurgence and give South Africa a 17-12 victory.


English athletics medal haul



Tuesday provided a fantastic night for English athletics with Will Sharman claiming silver in the 110m hurdles and narrowly falling short of the gold by an excruciating four hundredths of a second with Andrew Riley of Jamaica taking gold. The successes did not end there; Leicester and England’s Laura Samuel smashed her personal best by 34cm and took silver in the triple jump.


Ex-World Junior silver medalist Laura Weightman took silver again after a perfect execution of her race tactics in the 1500m, holding off Kenyan star Hellen Obiri and Canadian Kate van Buskirk to finish strongly only behind Kenya’s brilliant Faith Kipyegon. Finally, decathlete Ashley Bryant capped off a fine performance over the 10 events and brought home an astounding fifth silver for England that day.


Nigeria stun India in team table tennis



The Nigerian table tennis team produced one of the most memorable displays of the Games to shock India in the bronze medal playoff. With Singapore proving too strong for Nigeria in the Semi Final and eventually England in the final, it was left for Nigeria and India to battle it out at the Scotstoun Sports Campus in front of a truly absorbed crowd.


In the deciding game, despite Indian opponent Achanta being ranked No.40 in the world and Nigerian Ojo Onaolapo ranking well outside of the top 300, it was the Nigerian who held his nerve and brought the crowd to their feet and many teammates to tears with a superb performance to secure the bronze medal for Nigeria.


13 year old Davies takes brilliant swimming bronze



Few would have predicted that it would fall on 13 year old Erraid Davies and Scotland’s youngest competitor to provide one of the week’s biggest shocks and take a bronze medal in the SB9 100m breaststroke; much to the delight of her home crowd. Hailing from the Shetland Islands, Davies smashed her previous personal best twice on finals day and swam an amazing 1.21.38 to become the youngest ever Commonwealth medalist.


Such an incredible performance at such a young age only highlights her potential as a swimmer that could dominate the Paralympics for many years to come and a strong performance in Rio would be most impressive, but less surprising.

Justin time for Keble as Leung heads the field

Justin time for Keble as Leung heads the field

Pouring rain did little to hamper the mood at the annual Oxford Athletics Cuppers on Sunday, with students doing their best to provide a ray of sunshine amid the darkened skies.

Ultimately, Keble took top honours in the college stakes with 173 points to St John’s 106, and 36 cuppers standards were achieved by a total of 53 athletes. with the afternoon providing a useful warm up for many dark blues ahead of Varsity later in the year.

Standout performances came from last year’s BUCS 4x400m bronze medallist George Grundle (St Johns) who stretched his legs over 400m to win in 51.9s, while his medal-winning teammate Adam McBraida (Jesus) won the 200m by five seconds in 27.1s.

Louis Gardner (Lady Margaret Hall) impressed to take the 800m title in 2:05.7, whilst Ian Shevlin (St Catherines) was the only man sub-12 in the 100m, clocking 11.9s.

In the field, triple jumper Sam Trigg (Worcester) tried his hand at high jump, taking victory with 1.75m, while Tom Cross (Kellogg) won the javelin with 37.16m.

On the women’s side, Emily Stone showed her potential as a sprinter, taking the 100m in 13.6, before showing her versatility with 5.02m in the long jump and 24.42m in the javelin.

Stone, of Hertford, ended up as the top-scoring female athlete, racking up an impressive 83 points, while it was Justin Leung of Keble who took the men’s honour with 50 points.

In what were treacherous conditions for hurdling, Heli Copley (Keble) played a valuable role in helping her college to win the competition, by claiming maximum points in the 100m in 18.8s., with Christina Nick (Pembroke) winning the discus with 26.54m.

Even more exciting is that Oxford has many more blues and new athletes to strengthen the dark blue contingent in time for Varsity and BUCS.

Athletics Blues outscore Tabs at BUCS

Athletics Blues outscore Tabs at BUCS

[caption id="attachment_40761" align="alignright" width="300"]The bronze medal-winning 4x400 team The bronze medal-winning 4×400 team[/caption]

BUCS Athletics is a major event in the OUAC calendar, second only to the Varsity Matches. It is also one of the largest athletics events in the calendar with hundreds of athletes competing for their universities. As always the specialist sporting universities dominated but there was still some glory to be had for Oxford.

Pride of place to the Oxford 4×4 team who won a bronze medal, narrowly losing the silver in an epic battle with Cardiff Metropolitan by 0.04 seconds. The team, composed of Adam McBraida, George Gundle, Ralph Eliot and Sam Wareham (Craig Morten ran in the heats) smashed the Oxford record set in last year’s BUCS Final by running 3.15.27 – likely to end the year as one of the fastest 15 teams in the whole country.

Despite falling in the Water Jump during his heat Will Mycroft also won Bronze in the 3000m Steeplechase, taking advantage of his opponent’s error at the final Water Jump to steal ahead for third place and make himself comprehensive favourite for that event at Varsity on May 18th.

Other strong performances came from Sam Hitchings with a breakthrough performance to go over 40m in the Hammer for the first time for 8th place, Aidan Reynolds less happy with his 8th in the Javelin served to demonstrate his high expectations, Simone Paulson working hard for 6th in the Women’s 10000 and Tom Frith making a loaded 1500m final where he managed 10th against some very fine competition.

Overall it was a good performance from the team with the men narrowly outscoring Cambridge on BUCS points with that magnificent 3rd in the final 4×4. Men’s Captain Daniel Hooker commented: ‘there were obviously some standout performances for Cambridge to take note of but we were very solid across the board and it is that team effort that wins Varsity Matches as we aim to do in Cambridge on May 18th.’

PHOTO / Ralph Eliot

OUAC Blues strike fear into Cambridge in Varsity build-up

OUAC Blues strike fear into Cambridge in Varsity build-up

ouacLast Saturday Oxford University Athletics club travelled to Lee Valley Athletics centre to compete against Cambridge in the annual FEAR match (Field Events and Relays). The match is considered to be a major point in the build-up to the Varsity match next term. Unlike Varsity it is very much a team event and the scoring system differs greatly. Four athletes are entered for each event. Each athlete’s highest, longest, or fastest effort is combined to give a cumulative score. For example the team with the highest combined long jump or furthest combined shot put wins that event. The emphasis is very much on the team ethos, rather than individual glory of the Varsity match. FEAR is separated into four separate competitions: Men’s and Women’s field, and Men’s and women’s track.

Oxford’s day got off to the best possible start with convincing wins in the Men’s Javelin and Men High Jump. On both occasions it was fresher Aidan Reynolds who made the difference. In the Javelin he threw a mammoth 63.32 meters to comfortably secure a Blues standard and go 3rd on the Oxford all-time list. Barely fifteen minutes later he notched up his second Blues standard in the high jump, leaping 1.95 meters to see off a strong Cambridge line up. However, Cambridge fought back in the field, winning the Shot Put as well as the Triple Jump, despite the best efforts of Sam Trigg who jumped an impressive Blues standard of 14.11 meters. The Cambridge fight back ultimately meant that the Men’s field match was drawn 4-4. Unfortunately, the Oxford Women were slightly less successful in the field, much of this down to the light blues bosting an international high jumper amongst their ranks. An impressive dark blue victory in the Pole Vault was a highlight, but the women eventually went down 5-3.

This loss was to be the only major loss of the day however. On the track, the Dark Blue men utterly blew Cambridge away. The major highlights of track day came in men’s 4x200m race, where the Oxford squad set a blistering match record. On the women’s track Nadine Prill also made history by setting a new match record in the 60m with a time of 7.94. Ultimately the Oxford men brought it home with a 5-1 win with the Oxford women drawing 3-3. Although there is no overall trophy awarded on the day, the overall cumulative score for the entire day was Oxford 15-13 Cambridge. This score-line reflects a highly successful day of shoeing for OUAC who will be hoping they can carry such momentum forward into the varsity match next term.

Usain Bolt should pay his taxes or jog on

Usain Bolt should pay his taxes or jog on

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="369"] Usain Bolt (image credit: Daily Mirror)[/caption]

Despite writing an earlier article for the Oxford Student heavily critical of much of the politics and decisions surrounding the London 2012 Olympics, I had very little against the sporting events themselves. Granted, I’m not especially fond of competitive individualism, but watching extremely talented and hard-working people perform the sports they love was invigorating. Bradley Wiggins’ two-wheeled triumphs even partially inspired me to embark on a cycling expedition to North Wales. (I actually got as far as North Witney and camped in a field before returning to Cowley aboard a bus.)

It was therefore extremely disappointing to find politics thrust into athletics negatively yet again, with the news that five-times world champion Usain ‘Lightning’ Bolt appears to consider himself an expert on UK tax law. Bolt, who earns around £12.7million per year, has decided to boycott performing in Britain until tax laws are loosened. His complaint? As well as taking a cut of his winnings in the UK, Revenue and Customs also wanted a percentage of his £12.5m sponsorship deal with Puma. He only agreed to run in London due to a competitors’ tax amnesty for 2012, after three years of prior refusal to run in this country, and pulling out of 2010’s Grand Prix over his political position on taxation.

Remember how angry the great British public was when Tory grandee Lord Ashcroft was ploughing money into offshore accounts, claiming non-domiciled status? Or Philip Green and his £2.4bn tax dodge? Perhaps the worst was the case with Vodafone, who were essentially let off from £6bn worth of taxation by Hartnett at HMRC, in a case broken by Private Eye which reeked of a Berlusconian level of corruption. This is, we need barely be reminded, in the midst of entrenched and crushing austerity, where due to a supposed lack of state funding, ordinary citizens are losing everything from their pensions to sickness benefit to youth centres to hospitals to jobs under a swathe of crippling cutbacks. In light of this, it hardly seems that HMRC is the most stringent on taxation at all. Indeed, proposals in 2011 were made to undertake perhaps the largest corporate tax cut in UK history, whereby companies would be exempt from paying any contributions on foreign earnings. (Under the initial system, if Company A pays, say 5% tax in Country A, and the UK tax rate was 10%, it would have to pay HMRC another 5% from its foreign earnings to meet the total.) This is despite the 4% corporation tax cut already implemented -money that could have protected vital public services. There is no salient evidence to suggest that the British private sector has even particularly grown off the back of this cut. The phrase ‘government of the rich, by the rich, for the rich’, becomes ever more apparent.

Yet this is about Usain Bolt, not a general list of grievances against austerity and tax law. The point is that Green, Ashcroft and his ilk are in essence no different from Bolt in the sentiment they express. In a fair society, you do not get tax breaks for being rich, famous, and being able to run round a track almost as fast as your money does when escaping to the Cayman Islands. One should really expect no more from a competitive, ruthless individualist, yet I couldn’t help but be disappointed by Bolt’s assertions after having no small degree of respect for his athletic achievements. The reality is, his sponsorship earnings are part of his income. If he is competing on UK soil, as part of an event which in the case of London 2012 has cost the British taxpayer up to £24billion along with a raft of state oppression and house clearances, there is no reason why the public should not be able to recoup some of the profit from the Games. As the glow of the closing ceremony closes, it becomes ever more apparent that we are not going to have a sporting renaissance. School playing fields are being cut back, and youth services around the country have lost their ability to offer sporting provision. It is no surprise that the majority of Team GB were privately-educated and had access to world-class sporting facilities. Yet I doubt Bolt is concerned with, or has even really considered, the repercussions of loosened tax laws. He evidently seems far more concerned with retaining more money than he is likely to ever spend. So much for ‘sport for sport’s sake.’ HMRC’s position is hardly draconian in any case- as one official told the Telegraph, ‘”The Government put in place a tax exemption so that non-resident Olympic and Paralympic athletes would not pay UK tax on their income from Olympic and Paralympic appearances…Any tax on other UK income such athletes receive can in most cases be set off against tax paid in their home country.”

So, Bolt has once again exiled himself from our shores. It really is no great loss, one can watch him on TV from Rio de Janeiro just as simply as they could from East London. Maybe another runner will compete, win, and actually not mind too much about putting something back in to the system they have benefitted from. Yes, Bolt is very talented at what he does. That, however, does not hand him carte blanche to do as he wishes and pursue his own greed and self-interest at the expense of others. Bolt should take his self-imposed exile to have a long and serious think about the repercussions of his statements. In the meantime, we have Mo Farah to watch.