GLASGOW — A Commonwealth Games that began with an oft-injured Kirsten Sweetland racing to silver in the triathlon ended with Michelle Li capturing an historic badminton gold medal on Sunday.
And in between, Canada racked up more medals than it did four years ago in New Delhi, India, and climbed back onto its traditional place on the Commonwealth medal podium.
“Mission accomplished,” said the Canadian team’s general manager Scott Stevenson.
Canada finished a solid third at the Games behind traditional powerhouses England and Australia, winning 82 medals — 32 gold, 16 silver, 34 bronze.
Four years ago in India, Canada claimed 76 medals to finish fourth, kept off the medal podium for the first time since 1962.
“What we were really pleased with is that we closed the gap a little bit (on England and Australia),” Stevenson said. “Not just us, some of the other nations as well. We all took a little bite out of those two big guns, and we’re pretty proud of that. Not just in total medals but also in gold medals.”
England topped the medal table with 174, while the Aussies wound up second with 137.
Sultana Frizell of Perth, Ont., was chosen to carry Canada’s flag into Sunday night’s closing ceremonies, days after she won gold in the hammer throw, breaking the Commonwealth record three times in the process.
Frizell led a strong Canadian track and field team that claimed 17 medals at storied Hampden Park, highlighted by Damian Warner’s victory in the decathlon, Derek Drouin’s high jump gold medal, and Brianne Theisen-Eaton and Jessica Zelinka finishing 1-2 in the heptathlon.
Cam Levins won bronze in a thrilling 10,000-metre race, and the picture of the 25-year-old powering down the homestretch in the lead will be one of the enduring images of these Games.
Canada sent its A team in every sport except judo, and 265 athletes in all — its largest team for a Commonwealth Games not on home soil.
Sweetland, a 25-year-old from Victoria, started Canada’s run to the medal podium in the Games’ first event, racing to silver to put all the frustration of six years of injuries behind her.
“It was a gutsy performance by someone who’s gone through some challenges. . . a great start to the Games,” Stevenson said.
There would be numerous other memorable moments over the ensuing 10 days of competition, including Patricia Bezzoubenko nabbing five of the six rhythmic gymnastics gold medals.
“An absolutely spectacular performance,” Stevenson said.
In mountain biking, Catharine Pendrel pulled away in the first of six laps and never looked back to lead Canada to a 1-2 finish, crossing the finish line waving the Maple Leaf. Emily Batty won the silver.
“Incredible, a very dominant performance by those two. Fantastic day when you see someone riding across with no hands, holding the flag over their head,” Stevenson said.
Ryan Cochrane set a personal best in winning the 400-metre freestyle, and then successfully defended his gold medal in the 1,500 freestyle.
“This is not someone who’s a young athlete,” Stevenson said of the 25-year-old swimmer. “Many look at him and say he’s still in his prime, but some say he’s winding it down. I hope he’s not.”
Ryan Bester won lawn bowling silver — Canada’s first medal in the sport in 80 years. Twelve of Canada’s 14 wrestlers won medals, and women’s boxing made its Commonwealth Games debut, with Ariane Fortin taking silver at 75 kilograms and Mandy Bujold winning bronze at 51 kg.
Canada’s tag line for these Games was: the road to Rio goes through Glasgow and Toronto, and that was a talking point at the team’s closing news conference on Sunday.
“We’re really pleased with what was accomplished here going forward, to the next Commonwealth games, but before that, going into Toronto next summer (the 2015 Pan American Games),” Stevenson said.
“I think things are going in the right direction, and also towards Rio in two years. These are the people you’re going to see going forward, and for obviously winning medals for Canada down the road.”
Chantal Petitclerc, Canada’s chef de mission in Glasgow, said the Games were crucial in Canada’s preparation for Rio. It was a chance for athletes to get a taste of the multi-sport Games experience before the bright lights shine on them at the Olympics.
“I leave Glasgow convinced even more than ever before that these Games are important, we need them in the sports system,” said Petitclerc. “You can’t take athletes from their own specific sport to multi-sports Games and expect them to perform the first time.”
It was a chance for athletes to compete in front of a crowd.
“For many sports you do that once every four years, so you can’t expect athletes to go from performing in front of their family to a major Olympic stadium and have no impact. You can’t prepare for it by visualization, that’s not realistic.”
Glasgow was an enthusiastic host, rolling out the red carpet for the world’s 71 teams from the former British Empire. Fans packed the venues for virtually every session of every sport.
“What was most impressive was the fact that you could go to a preliminary session and it was full. You don’t always see that,” Stevenson said. Finals: exciting, fantastic. But you go to preliminaries at 9 o’clock on a mid-week and you get a full house.“
Nearly 5,000 athletes competed in 261 events in 18 different sports in the largest multi-sport event ever held in Scotland.
Halifax bid to host the 2014 Games but dropped out of the Commonwealth race after the municipal and government withdrew its funding for what would have been $1.7 billion project.
Gold Coast, north of Brisbane, Australia, will host the Games in 2018.
Edmonton will bid to host the 2022 Games. So far, Durban, South Africa is the only other city to express interest in bidding.