I vaguely remember visiting Birmingham about 30 years ago. It was dour and uninspiring. If you’ve not been to Birmingham recently, it’s a different place: a modern city with a high percentage of young people. The Commonwealth Games have added a buzz to the UK’s second largest city. The centre looks vibrant, the trams are nipping around again (they’d stopped for many months) and there were many visitors. The sun helped. It reminded me of how friendly London became when the Olympics were held there.
The opening and closing ceremonies for the Games reflected the diverse country the UK has become. Many of the participants were undoubtedly the descendants of parents and grandparents who’d come from Commonwealth countries to the UK in the 1960s, as my parents did. I liked the way the ceremonies celebrated the old and the new — and paid homage to Birmingham’s industrial past.
Like the Olympic Games in London 2012, I entered the draw for tickets. I ended up getting tickets for the athletics, table tennis and squash.
The highlight of the three was the athletics. We saw several finals: women’s long jump, men’s javelin, women’s 1500m, women’s 5000m, women’s 4x400m and men’s 4x400m.
The races were thrilling. Laura Muir was dominant in the 1500m and Eilish McColgan led the pack in the 5000m until Kenya’s Beatrice Chebet produced her powerful finish for the gold. The women’s 4x400m was a breath-taking photo-finish. After waiting several minutes, England were declared winners. It was a fitting finale to the athletics for the Games — or so we thought, as we left Alexander Stadium. We found out later that England had been disqualified because their athletes had stepped outside their lane.
Earlier in the Games, I went to see squash at Birmingham University. I felt nostalgic watching squash because it reminded me of my younger days when I’d play squash with a friend before playing five-a-side football with other friends.
Playing football was my favourite activity growing up. I stopped only because the knocks and injuries I got took longer to recover from as I grew older. Twisted ankles that I used to shake off within a couple of days took a week or two to get better. During recovery, I couldn’t run, which stopped me training for my first marathon at the time. In the end, I sacrificed football for running but I would loved to have done both.
Another sport I loved playing when I was younger was table tennis. I got tickets for the women’s doubles’ table tennis final and bronze medal playoff and similarly for the men’s singles. The men’s final in particular was thrilling. The score (India beat England) didn’t do justice to how close the game was.
I can’t write about the Games without mentioning the volunteers. They were dressed in their new teal/orange uniforms and genuinely helpful and friendly. They were a brilliant advert for the city and helped make the Games a success!