Scotty Stevenson: Clegg opens our eyes to spirit of Games

New Zealand Womens Hammer Thrower Julia Ratcliffe carries the NZ flag at Hampden Park in Glasgow. Photo / Greg Bowker
New Zealand Womens Hammer Thrower Julia Ratcliffe carries the NZ flag at Hampden Park in Glasgow. Photo / Greg Bowker

If the legend is true, Hampden Park, Scotland's national stadium, once hosted 149,000 people for a football match between the home nation and England. Allegedly this remains a European record attendance and for decibel-level recordings, too.

That latter record may have been shattered this week when a mere 50,000 people attended the Commonwealth Games athletics, many of them sold on the promise that a certain U. Bolt would be listed among the finalists of the 100m sprint. He decided, being a team man and all, to concentrate on the relay, where he could share the limelight with his fellow countrymen. He should, of course, be applauded for this kind of selfless act. What a guy!

Having surveyed the early evening crowd, it seemed the majority understood that the needs of his team came first. Sure, there was disappointment, but there were other sprinters to excite them. They just couldn't name any.

Fortunately, what they were treated to in Bolt's absence was one of the greatest 100m finals in Comm Games history, if not the greatest. The crowd knew it as soon as the athletes were called to the track. They could sense something special was coming.

Has there ever been such a roar as each of the competitors was introduced? Has there ever been such a hush as the starters took their marks? You could have heard a penny drop in the hospitality suites.

At least four of the runners couldn't have cared less as the evening sun lit up the track, unlike the home straight fans, who had reached for their sunglasses. Those four looked coiled and ready, focused on the next few seconds.

The gun went, and with that came the noise. It bounced and ricocheted about the place; it carried to the runners from all directions and pointed the way to the line. And when Libby Clegg, Scotland's first track gold medallist of the Games, came home in 12.2s, the great hanging roof of Hampden Park only barely hung on.

That Clegg is Scottish explains only some of the cheer; that Clegg is vision-impaired explains the rest.

Think about how you would stagger and grope your way around your own house if you were wearing a blindfold, let alone around a giant Scottish stadium. Now think of Clegg and the three others in the final of the Para Sport T11/12 100m final and imagine how much courage it takes to run as fast as you can when you can't see.

There are many things to recommend these Games, from the warmth of the welcome to the buzz of Glasgow. But when dishing out plaudits to those in charge, the greatest praise should go to whomever it was who fought for the inclusion and integration of the para sport events. That Libby Clegg can call herself a Commonwealth Games champion without having to qualify the statement is just as it should be.

There were other 100m races that evening and, yes, the crowd cheered for Blessing Okagbare as she broke the Games record. And yes, the crowd cheered for Kemar Bailey-Cole as he crossed the line in 10s flat, but you could sense they were saving themselves for something.

Turns out what they were saving themselves for was a medal ceremony. It was for the T11/12 Women's 100m medallists. And when they were piped into the arena with their guides - those other four runners - the noise swelled. When Libby Clegg and her guide Mikail Huggins stood atop the podium it peaked as if it was filled again with 149,000 people.

People have asked questions about what defines the Commonwealth Games' place in world, what relevance it has when some of the biggest names don't want to be there. Well, maybe if you had been in Hampden Park, you would realise that Libby Clegg will be the name they remember here long after Glasgow returns to normal.

Clegg, for whom the crowd roared and who, in return, let us all see.

- NZ Herald

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