Down in Gold Coast, Australia, this little event called the Commonwealth Games is going on at the moment. Half the world is losing their minds (and sleep!) over it, while the other half doesn’t have a clue what the hell is going on. We asked someone who should know – 2010 Commonwealth discus champion Benn Harradine. The Aussie, who just competed in his fourth and final Commonwealth Games, explains the magic of the event.
I think my most memorable Commonwealth moment – and a decisive one for me as an athlete – was watching Cathy Freeman in Victoria in 1994.
There was this famous former boxing coach who criticised Cathy after she won the 400m and 200m for carrying the Aboriginal and the Australian flag. He thought it was disrespectful. For me, knowing my indigenous heritage, I felt incredibly proud. To me, that was the moment that told me ‘I belong in that environment’. It was something for me to aspire to.
To see that someone from an indigenous background and a proud Australian can go out there and win gold medals for our country, that was key in spurring me on to compete in athletics, wanting to represent my country at a Commonwealth Games and of course worked as a stepping stone to my overall international career.
Fortunately for me, I started my career in 2006, the Commonwealth Games was my first international competition. It was in Melbourne, so it was on home soil and the MCG is one of the biggest stadiums in Australia. It houses like 85,000 people and being a green and gold athlete in that sort of environment is something you just can’t replicate very often.
If I now reflect on what I have learnt from the Commonwealth Games in my own career is that one of the most important things – especially since all the training and preparation is done by the time the Games comes around – is to enjoy the environment that comes with it being a multi-sports event and the village life that doesn’t exist at a normal championships.
There’s all the other competitions and events going on and the social aspect of things, which reminds you that we’re all in it together, it almost feels like an Olympics. It may not quite be the Olympics, but it’s a fantastic stepping stone for especially younger athletes. Everyone’s in the same situation, everyone’s nervous, everyone wants to perform to the best of their abilities, we all have our goals. But it’s nice to be able to distract yourself from going into isolation and starting to overthink things and just having trouble killing time right before a competition, which is a struggle for a lot of athletes.
I occasionally read some things on Twitter – ‘Who even cares about Commies? The standard’s poor. What even is this?’ – but you know the thing is: at the end of the day you still have to go out there and compete, no matter the overall standard.
Most of the time when we compete as athletes, our biggest enemies are ourselves. You still have to go through the same competition, the village, the championships, stay healthy and fit, you still have to do the job and I think that’s what people who question the Games don’t see. For us, this is a big deal, this is an important competition in our careers, because it often plays a role in defining our future championships experiences.
Rivalries of course play a big part in it. Sports thrive off rivalries and it has been a big part of our Commonwealth history for many, many years: the rivalry with the English, with the Kiwis, it’s been passed down to us and we in a way have to live up to that. It’s our chance for Australia to shine, to step it up and to show we really are a strong sporting nation and live up to the historical rivalries – although we’re all friends away from the track.
Of course with this Games, the home support for us is incredible, too. I went to the stadium on day one to watch the hammer throw and I could only stay for three rounds because I was just getting too excited. I wanted to savour that feeling, so I could really thrive off it during my own competition.
In the hammer, they were going crazy for warm-up throws. They had to stop the 100m because the field events were so loud. People getting animated and emotional. That’s what we want from the sport, we want the spectator to know what’s going on and get behind the athletes and support them, because that’s what gets you good performances, you could see that happening these last few days. For me, at this stage in my career, I’m enjoying this moment. It’ll be my last championships, so I want to make sure I can have the most amount of fun I can possibly have.
The opportunity to watch our sport on TV isn’t always there these days. For me as a kid, having Cathy fly the flags in Victoria visible on TV and being able to so vividly remember that moment is a reminder that now that I am in a situation where I compete on that very stage, I am doing this for a reason other than just myself.
I hope that all of us who compete at a Commonwealth Games and what we do inspires other kids out there to have a crack at the sport as well.