Fleeting Bolt visit could be key to Glasgow Games
JUL 20, 2014 8:00p ET
Competing in just one event, Usain Bolt is likely to race in Glasgow for less than 20 seconds. Just convincing the sprint star to come to the Commonwealth Games, though, should go a long way to elevating the status of a sporting spectacle that might seem anachronistic.
Two years after the exuberance of the London Olympics, where Bolt left with three golds, Britain is welcoming the world back this week - or former members of the British Empire at least - for Scotland's largest-ever multi-sports event.
Across 11 days, 4,500 athletes will be competing in 17 events as the 20th Commonwealth Games is broadcast for the first time to television audiences in all 71 competing nations and territories. How full the venues will be on those screens remains unclear, with the insatiable appetite for Olympic tickets in London not appearing to have been matched north of the border.
The ticket website shows ''high availability'' still for many events, including Wednesday's opening ceremony, headlined by rock star Rod Stewart at the home of his beloved football club Celtic, and Susan Boyle, the church volunteer whose soaring voice turned her into an overnight reality TV star.
Even track and field events, which start Sunday at the Hampden Park national football stadium, have tickets still on sale for all but two of the 10 sessions. Not though on Aug. 1 and Aug. 2 when Bolt will appear for the first time. Unlike in London when he swept the 100, 200 and 4x100-meter relay titles, the Jamaican is restricting himself to the relay in Glasgow, with just a heat and inevitable final. Organizers should be relieved Bolt is participating at all, given his lack of action this season due to a foot injury.
''I have received lots of requests, invitations and messages of support from my fans in Scotland who are looking forward to a great event,'' said Bolt, who skipped the 2006 and 2010 Commonwealth Games.
Like Bolt, a recent foot injury prevented compatriot Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, the double 100-meter Olympic champion, from participating in the Jamaican trials so her involvement in Glasgow will also be restricted to the relay. Although the enduring relevance of the Commonwealth is often questioned in the 21st century, Fraser-Pryce's affection for the organization's sports festival is clear.
''It ranks high because I've never been to a Commonwealth Games before,'' Fraser-Pryce told The Associated Press. ''I've always thought (after) winning an Olympic gold medal, a world championship gold medal and a world indoor gold medal that if I had a Commonwealth gold medal that would top things off.
''I don't think it's outdated (the Commonwealth Games), I just think that a lot of persons who believe that are the world powers who aren't here. So they believe that it's not a big thing, but ... we are part of the Commonwealth and we see it as something big.''
Organizers will be hoping to recapture the high spirits of London 2012, with an array of British Olympic medalists splitting off to compete under the home nations' flags. Perhaps offsetting Bolt's truncated participation, English favorite Mo Farah declared himself fit to try to add to his 5,000 and 10,000 Olympic titles and shake off the frustrations from his lackluster full London Marathon debut in April.
Away from the temporary Hampden Park track, Bradley Wiggins will also have a point to prove in the newly-built velodrome and on the roads of Glasgow after the 2012 Tour de France champion was omitted from the Team Sky squad for this year's race.
The Tollcross swimming pool should be the scene of some of the most fiercely, competitive action, with the sold-out 100-meter breaststroke final pitting Olympic champion Cameron van der Burgh of South Africa against Australia's world champion Christian Sprenger.
The rugby sevens will take on greater significance this time as New Zealand chases a fifth consecutive Commonwealth title as the sport prepares for its Olympic debut in Rio in 2016. Squash's struggle to gain inclusion on the Olympic program raises the significance of Commonwealth gold for many, including Nick Matthew, the Englishman defending singles and doubles titles from Delhi.
The 2010 Games were beset by organizational chaos and damaging headlines for India over the wellbeing of both venues and athletes. Although a sickness and vomiting bug has broken out in the last week in the Glasgow athletes' village only workers appear to have been affected.
Scotland's preparations have largely gone under the radar - a reflection of the smooth project as much as the global sporting radar being tuned into Brazil for the World Cup for much of the year. The Glasgow budget did however jump by more than 50 percent from the bid to 563 million pounds ($962 million), and the Scottish government has been forced to dip into its contingency to fund what could be another high-politicized Commonwealth Games in Scotland.
The 1986 Edinburgh Games left the Scottish capital in financial crisis after 32 of 59 teams boycotted the event over the British government's ties with apartheid-era South Africa. This time, domestic politics threatens to dominate the games agenda, with politicians in the final stretch before Scotland's Sept. 18 referendum on whether to break away from Britain.
A flurry of home successes and repeated renditions of ''Flower of Scotland'' will undoubtedly raise patriotic passions among the tartan-clad spectators, but how that translates at the ballot box will be unclear. But whether pro- or anti-independence, Scots will be united for the next two weeks at least on delivering a world-class event to savor.
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris