The history of the Commonwealth Games

Sideline Sid
Sports correspondent & historian

The current XXII Commonwealth Games in Birmingham looks set to be amongst the most successful for the New Zealand team.

The team is looking to surpass the 17 gold medals won at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland.

The current edition of the Commonwealth Games, with 5000 plus athletes from 72 countries, has come a long way since the first (then) Empire Games in Canada 92 years ago.

Held in Hamilton, in the Canadian province of Ontario, the 1930 British Empire Games attracted just 11 countries, who competed in six sports.

The hosts were joined by England, Australia, Bermuda, British Guiana, Ireland, Newfoundland, Scotland, South Africa, Wales and New Zealand.

Athletics was the mainstay of the Hamilton Commonwealth Games, with swimming, diving, boxing, lawn bowls, rowing and wrestling, completing the program of events.

New Zealand, Australia, Canada, England, Scotland and Wales are the only countries to have competed at all 22 Empire/Commonwealth Games.

A little known statistic from the inaugural Empire Games, is that New Zealand won one more medal than our neighbours from over the ditch.

The Kiwi representatives returned home with three gold, four silver and two bronze, while Australia mustered three gold, four silver and one bronze, to finish behind New Zealand on the medal tally.

New Zealand champion long distance runner Jack Savidan outstayed his rivals to win the six mile race on the grass track, with Stan Lay also providing joy for the Kiwi team with success in the javelin.

Rowing provided the third New Zealand gold medal, with the coxed four standing on top of the podium.

It’s interesting to note that rowing provided eight members of the 22 person New Zealand team.

One of the true legends of New Zealand sport first grabbed international headlines at the 1934 Empire Games held in London.

Jack Lovelock, who would go on to Olympic gold medal glory, won the glamour one mile on the track.

A big contingent of New Zealanders crossed the Tasman for the 1938 Empire Games in Sydney, returning home with five gold medallions.

Cecil Matthews took out the three and six mile double, with Pat Boot winning the 800 yards.

Bowls provided two further gold medals with victory in the pairs and fours competition.

A 12 year gap due to WW2, brought the Empire Games to Auckland in 1950, which was by far the country’s biggest ever sporting event.

A medal count of 10 gold, 21 silver and 20 bronze medals set the bar for future New Zealand Commonwealth Games competition.

The star of the 1950 Empire Games was the legendary Yvette Williams, who won the women's long jump.

Her winning leap smashed the national, Empire Games and British Empire records.

Williams would go on to Olympic glory in 1952 and was crowned New Zealand Sports Person of the Year in 1950 and 1952.

There was a change of names in 1954, to the British Empire and Commonwealth Games, followed by the British Commonwealth Games in 1970, and a final readjustment to the Commonwealth Games title in 1978.

The Commonwealth Games in the 21st century covers a wide spectrum of competing nations - from the vast land masses of Canada, India, South Africa and Australia with hundreds of athletes, to specks on the map of the world, with a handful of entries.

Commonly known as the ‘Friendly Games’ they give sporting minnows from tiny Commonwealth nations, lifetime memories, in rubbing shoulders with a myriad of the greats of world sport.

Long may the Commonwealth Games continue!


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