1 year to go: Gold Coast counts down to Commonwealth Games

GOLD COAST, Australia (AP) Just days after floods devastated nearby cities and towns, one of Australia’s most popular tourist destinations is marking the one-year countdown to the Commonwealth Games.

The quadrennial event may be shrouded in uncertainty after Durban was stripped of the hosting rights to the 2022 edition, but organizers on the Gold Coast are confident the estimated $1.8 billion investment in the games and infrastructure will help revitalize the country’s fastest-growing region.

Olympic hurdles champion Sally Pearson is a Gold Coast local and will be the main ambassador of the April 4-15 games, which run through the local school-holiday period to ensure as many of the 1.2 million tickets are sold as possible.

”I’m not just running for myself,” said Pearson, the 2012 Olympic 100-meter hurdles gold medalist, ”I’m running for my whole city.”

The sports program for the games was released Tuesday, exactly a year from the opening ceremony, with the marquee track and field events – the men’s and women’s 100 – set for April 9.

More than 6,600 athletes and officials from 70 countries and territories are expected to participate in 18 sports, with 275 gold medals up for grabs.

To keep costs down, organizers are using a combination of new and existing venues on the Gold Coast, as well as facilities for cycling and shooting that were originally used for the 1982 Commonwealth Games in Brisbane, 80 kilometers (50 miles) to the north.

”We need to make certain these games are a role model for the rest of the world,” local organizing committee chairman Peter Beattie said after announcing the games were on budget and preparations were on schedule.

The main stadium at Carrara, which usually hosts Australian rules football, has been enlarged to a 40,000-seat capacity and will host the opening and closing ceremonies and the track and field competition.

The Aquatics Centre, across the Gold Coast Broadwater from Sea World, has been redeveloped since the 2014 Pan Pacific swimming championships and will seat 10,000 for swimming sessions and 2,500 for diving.

Organizers have had to be creative, too, with sound stages at the Oxenford Studios being converted from movie sets to sports arenas to host boxing, squash and table tennis. Beach volleyball will be held at Coolangatta’s Queen Elizabeth Park, to showcase the famous nearby surf breaks at Snapper Rocks and Kirra.

Durban, South Africa, last month lost the rights to stage the 2022 edition and although other cities have expressed interest from in stepping in as host, it has raised doubts about the future viability of the event that involves countries associated with the former British empire.

”The cancellation of Durban, that obviously raised some concerns,” Beattie told the Australian Associated Press. ”Of course there’s added pressure on us to perform, but we’re up to the task.

”We want the Gold Coast to be a model event that can be showcased around the world.”

Australia dominated the medal standings the last time it hosted the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne in 2006. And, in 1982, the event helped transform Queensland state capital Brisbane.

Pearson and Beattie and Co. are hopeful the 2018 Games will have a similar, positive legacy, particularly in the wake of Cyclone Debbie, which has flooded vast parts of Queensland and New South Wales states, leading to a reported five deaths in the last week, and temporarily cutting off the main national highway between Sydney and Brisbane.

Pearson’s final in the women’s 100 hurdles will be held on April 13. She took silver at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, won gold in London but was unable to defend it in Rio de Janeiro last year because of injury.

”I remember in Melbourne walking out into the stadium and having people that you didn’t even know calling your name, calling out to you and cheering for you,” Pearson said recalled of the last Commonwealth Games in Australia in 2006. ”It’s a feeling that you can’t describe … I soak that atmosphere and that excitement in because if you have that around you, have that support around you, it makes me run better.”