Thursday, 21 July 2022 00:35

Be Bold, Brave and Brilliant in Birmingham!

By Mary Pianta

The 2022 Commonwealth Games, officially known as the XII Commonwealth Games, is an international multi-sport event for members of the Commonwealth that is scheduled to be held in Birmingham, the second-largest city in the UK, 177 km NW of London.
Events for athletes with a disability were first included on the Commonwealth Games program as exhibition sports at the Victorian 1994 Games. The two exhibition sports were the men’s marathon wheelchair and the men’s 800 m wheelchair events. 
However, it was at the 2002 Games in Manchester, England where Para-Sport athletes were fully integrated into their national teams, making them the first fully inclusive international multi-sport Games.
Back in the 18th century, Birmingham was described as ‘the first manufacturing town in the world – the leading nucleus of the Industrial Revolution in Britain’. From small market town to the fastest-growing city of the 19th century, it has become the metropolitan hub of UK’s manufacturing and automotive industries.
All 72 Commonwealth nations and territories were visited by the Queen’s Baton by July 4. It was in Australia from 17 to 20 March where Sally Pearson was the first to carry the Baton at Broadbeach on the Gold Coast – the host city for 2018 Games. 
The Baton then returned to England for a 25-day tour of the nation before weaving its way through the host city during the last two days of its 294-day journey (140,000 km). A piece of platinum was included when creating the Baton to acknowledge the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee this year. Thousands of spectators and athletes will descend on Birmingham during this time.
On July 28, during the Opening Ceremony, the Baton will be opened and the Queen’s personal message, which was inserted when the relay began at Buckingham Palace on October 7, will be read. The traditional parade of flags and vibrant colours will feature in this celebration of culture and sport. Locals are very proud of the hard work and effort over the last two years to have the city ready, despite the challenges of COVID, especially the transformation of Alexander Stadium for the Opening and Closing Ceremonies and the athletics program.
More than 5000 athletes will compete in 286 sessions in 20 sports, with 283 gold medals to be won. To be able to be cheering in Birmingham, supporting the Australian team, is so different from the situation in Tokyo last year, where athletes competed with no spectators or support from families and fans. This is an inclusive and accessible event. Considerations have been made for people with accessibility needs, ensuring a safe, independent and dignified experience for spectators. There will be additional assistance available for those requiring it, i.e., wheelchairs and buggies.
Channel 7 will broadcast all the action across their free-to-air channels and streaming service, 7Plus, giving more opportunities for Australians to cheer on their sporting heroes.
An inspiring squad of champions has been named in the Australian Para-Table tennis team. Six para-table tennis stars and two able-bodied players have now been selected to round out a 14-strong team, the biggest squad for a Commonwealth Games, representing the green and gold. Danni Di Toro will make her debut in this debut event. A 7xParalympian in wheelchair tennis, she switched to table tennis in 2015 for Rio and Tokyo Paralympic Games. She became a paraplegic at 13 when a brick wall collapsed on her at a swimming carnival. Lin Ma, Qian Yang and Lina Lei represented Australia in Tokyo, also.
2014 and 2018 saw six Para-Swimming events. From 50 m to 1500 m, there will be a variety of strokes and events to showcase the talent, skills and strengths of every athlete in the pool (100 m breaststroke debut event). Paralympic great, Ellie Cole, is seeking the elusive Commonwealth Gold to close out her illustrious career and fill the gap in her trophy cabinet. The women’s 100 m Freestyle S9 is her only event in Birmingham. Col Pearse from Echuca is our local para-swimmer – remember he trained in a dam on the family property for 2020 Paralympics. Watch for Ashleigh McConnell in backstroke and 4x100 m relays, and Emily Beecroft in butterfly, freestyle, medley and relay events.
The Sandwell Aquatics Centre is the only brand-new venue for the Games. After 66 events in diving/swimming, the venue will be reconfigured; 4000 seats to be removed and additional leisure facilities added before reopening as a community facility.
A fully integrated Para Sport program will show feats of superhuman speed, strength, endurance and agility in athletics, from the 100 m sprint to the 10,000 m race, then finishing with the marathon. The 100 m T33/T34 is a debut event. Anthony Jordan, in 100 m for T47 athletes, was born with a congenital arm abnormality. At 16, after these Games, he will be aiming for the next Paralympics. An able-bodied athlete to watch for is Ben Buckingham who grew up on a cattle farm near Myrtleford.
Para-Triathlon was introduced at the 2018 Games in the Gold Coast. The race begins with an open water swim and transitions into a cycle ride, before finishing with a run to the end. A team of four vision-impaired Para-triathletes is ready to take on the best in Birmingham. These athletes have been given the opportunity to make their debut, so they are training with their sighted guides, who must be the same gender and nationality. Gerrard Gosens and Hayden Armstrong; Sam Harding and Luke Harvey; Jonathan Goerlach  and David Mainwaring; Erica Burleigh and Felicity Cradick. Gosens said that you don’t have to be able to see our flag, or the green and gold, to know what it means to represent our country. Goerlach is happy about the rare opportunity to see able-bodied athletes and para-athletes being treated equally, with a para-sport medal the same as an able-bodied medal – they will all go on the same medal tally.
In 2002, two para-sport events were added to the Lawn Bowls program. The Jackaroos and Para-Jackaroos have recently been competing in a Tri-Nations event at the Birmingham venue. Ireland, Scotland and two teams from Australia were very evenly matched throughout the competition. The manager for Para-Bowls is very excited by the strength and depth of talent within the squad. A coin toss decides who will roll the ‘jack’ down the green at the start of the match. The first to score 21 points for bowls closest to the jack will win the singles event. In pairs, triples and fours competition they amass their points.
Para-Cycling was first introduced into the program in 2014 at Glasgow, Scotland. There are now three disciplines – track, road and mountain bike. In the 34-member cycling team we have Jessica Gallagher with Caitlin Ward as her ‘pilot’ and Beau Wootton with Luke Zaccaria as ‘pilot’. Jessica is now classified as legally blind after being diagnosed with a rare eye disease in Year 12. She has won medals at Summer and Winter Paralympics in athletics, slalom and cycling. Para-Tandem Sprint is conducted over five laps; two riders per heat, with winners going through to the next round. From quarter finals onwards, winners are determined from the best of three heats. Lots are drawn to determine starting positions, with the rider on the inside position leading the first half-lap of the race. They then choose where to ride until the dramatic sprint to the finishing line. Time-Trial Tandem will also feature as men’s and women’s events over 1000 m.
Para-Powerlifting – an open weight para-sport bench press event was included in Manchester 2002. Glasgow 2014 again saw the inclusion of Para-Powerlifting with four events, including Heavyweight and Lightweight categories for men and women. This is a demanding test of upper body strength. Powerlifters participate in the bench press discipline; lying flat, they must control the heavy-loaded barbell, starting from arms-length position down onto their chest, and then evenly press the barbell back up until their arms are ‘locked out’. Competitors have three attempts to produce a medal-winning lift. They routinely lift two or three times their own body weight. Ben Wright is a three-time Australian Champion.
Wheelchair Basketball 3x3 is a sport of skill and physicality where teams block, steal and rebound their way to victory. This is a debut event in Birmingham. Basketball will feature as a 3x3 competition for both able body and para-athletes. The Rollers (men) and Gliders (women) are preparing for a busy schedule with the experienced Nick Such leading the group for Australia. Craig Friday is coaching the Rollers, hoping to get them physically fit and with the will to win. Craig Campbell has taken on the top job with the Gliders. Both teams participated in camps held at the AIS earlier this year.
With 286 sessions in 20 sports, and 283 gold medals to be won, the athletes from Australia carry the hope of the nation in 2022. The inspirational message they will send every day through their incredible sporting achievements can help bring about social change. Be ready for twelve days of an exciting display of courage and resilience as all athletes make history in Birmingham, from July 28 to August 8.
After the Closing Ceremony, we can turn our thoughts towards 2026 when the Commonwealth Games will be held in Victoria, with a number of regional cities, including Bendigo, combining to host various events.
Mary Pianta.
Disability Contact Coordinator.

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