Canada’s focus solely on sports at Glasgow Games
GLASGOW — Around this time four years ago, Canadian team general manager Scott Stevenson was scrubbing floors at the Commonwealth Games athletes village in India.
Canada’s team had delayed its travel to New Delhi — for as long as a week for some athletes — because of serious concerns about hygiene and security in the village.
Canadian officials called the athletes’ quarters “unlivable.” Canada was among several countries that talked about pulling out.
Four years later, Stevenson and the rest of the Canadian team in Glasgow can focus on competition rather than cleaning — and that alone could help Canada climb back into the top three on the Commonwealth medal table.
“The challenge of Delhi was incredible,” said Stevenson. “We were looking at turning on taps that ran right to the floor. Flushing toilets that didn’t flush. There were live wires. We had to buy equipment and cleaning supplies. We had to be, in so many ways, responsible for getting the village ready ourselves.”
Stevenson arrived in Glasgow to inspect Canada’s living quarters, and their some-385 beds. He was three or four rooms into it when he sat back and realized “Wait a second, I haven’t made one note yet.
“Here, we could hit the ground running,” Stevenson said at the team’s opening news conference Tuesday.
Canada is gunning for a top-three finish in Glasgow after finishing fourth in New Delhi behind Australia, England and the home country.
The 265-member team is the largest Canada has ever fielded for a Commonwealth Games held outside of Canada, and it boasts Olympic and world championship medallists such as swimmer Ryan Cochrane, high jumper Derek Drouin, and heptathlete and decathlete Brianne Theisen-Eaton and Damian Warner.
“Our national sport bodies see this as a very important opportunity, not just as a stepping stone but as a very competitive event,” Stevenson said. “Very strong fields here. You’re going to see some great competition. Some of the events have the very best in the world here.”
Among the Games’ international stars: Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, distance runner Mo Farah and diver Tom Daley of England, Welsh cyclist Geraint Thomas, and rugby sevens player Samisoni Viriviri of Fiji.
Field hockey and rugby will be strong — Australia won the recent men’s World Cup and was second on the women’s side, while Commonwealth countries such as New Zealand virtually rule rugby sevens.
The Canadians expect strong opposition again from perennial powerhouse Australia, plus England and Scotland, which likely wouldn’t mind a strong showing ahead of the country’s independence referendum on Sept. 18.
“We believe in the reviews we’ve done that we’ll be in and around third place,” Stevenson said. “We anticipate moving back into where we are pushing the Aussies and England better than we did back then.”
Canada claimed 76 medals in 2010, including 26 gold, 17 silver and 33 bronze, but Stevenson wouldn’t wager how many times Canadians might climb the podium in Scotland.
When asked if 100 medals might be attainable, he said “If things go great, maybe. If things align. But we’re not getting into actual numbers.
“(But 100) is a beautiful number.”
Canada has topped 100 medals five times: 1994 in Victoria (129), 2002 in Manchester (118), 1986 in Edinburgh (116), 1990 in Auckland, N.Z., (113), and 1978 in Edmonton (109).
Veteran shooter Susan Nattrass will carry Canada’s flag into the opening ceremonies. The 63-year-old also boasts the most Commonwealth medals won by any member of this team, with eight (three silver, five bronze).
The team’s youngest member is 16-year-old gymnast Isabela Onyshko. The oldest: Paralympic lawn bowler Al Hanet, who is 78.
Canada will compete in 16 of the 17 sports, fielding teams in all but netball. And in every sport except judo, which had a conflict with an Olympic qualifying event, Canada is fielding its A team.
“Right away, coming out of Delhi, knowing what was going to follow Glasgow with the Pan Am Games in Toronto next year and then the Olympic Games in Rio, it became three Games back-to-back-to-back which became very important,” Stevenson said. “You put three multi-sport Games together in a row, you’re really going to be able to refine so many areas before the show in Rio. There’s a real opportunity.”
The smooth organization of Glasgow, and the ability to focus solely on sport, is a welcome relief for Stevenson and the rest of the Canadian team.
Stevenson recalled how some 130 journalists from various Commonwealth countries showed up for Canada’s opening news conference four years ago in New Delhi.
“Most of the interest there was not about sport. The interest there was more about the conditions in the village and some of the challenges we anticipated facing,” he told the handful of reporters on hand Tuesday.
Former Paralympic star Chantal Petiticlerc, Canada’s chef de mission in Glasgow, said the excitement in the Glasgow village is palpable.
“You can really feel that in the village at the moment where everything is going so well, the spirit and the atmosphere is so good, but at the same time highly competitive,” she said. “That’s something that I enjoy (about the Commonwealth Games), the balance of a great experience, but at the same time a great experience and great performances.”
Of Canada’s 265 athletes, there are 20 medallists from the New Delhi Games, while 134 of the athletes are Commonwealth Games rookies.