The upcoming Commonwealth Games slated for Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in September conjures up a myriad of images from the lengthy history of these Games. It also provides one with the incentive to reflect and hypothesize on the impact and importance of this type of international competition to Canadian swimmers. A strong emphasis has always been placed on participation in this setting, yet in examining the statistics it is clear that there has been only minor improvement in the breadth of countries participating. The various medal tables clearly illustrate that there are really only two, or perhaps three, countries that win the majority of the medals in each Games: Australia, Canada, and England. In comparison, there were 63 nations represented in the last Commonwealth Games, yet only a total of 10 nations have won swimming medals throughout the history of the Games (with three of these winning only one medal each over the years). The competition is mainly a three-way effort, with the odd medal being won by others on rare occasions. The Australian and Canadian teams have competed fairly closely over the years, but in the immediate past four Games the Aussies have clearly dominated the medal wins.
The Commonwealth Games, as it exists today, consists of 69 nations around the world that have had, at some time, a political connection to Britain. The Games were first held in Hamilton, Ontario, in August of 1930. At these inaugural Games, 400 athletes from 11 countries competed. The pool for the swimmers and divers was a new, 25-yard, six-lane, indoor facility; and it was the only time that swimmers at these Games competed in such a pool. The English team won the most medals, and this was the only time that has happened. In contrast to these first Games, the Victoria 1994 Games had over 2500 competitors from 63 countries. The only year in which Canadians were the top country in swimming at the Games was in 1978, in Edmonton.
In the last Games, Canada did very poorly in total medals, with only 19. This was the lowest number since 1962. The Australians, in contrast, have dominated the total medals won, and in Victoria they amassed a total of 52, which was one less than they won in 1990. The Aussies have certainly dominated the competition for the past several Games, and will undoubtedly be the strongest team this September.
So where does this put the significance of these Games in the total scheme of international competitions? As a swimming nation, we are certainly committed to "performance excellence" pursuits on the international scene, and we compete in all of the international games that are available to us, including the Pan American Games, which is of a similar nature to the Commonwealth Games except the Americans dominate that scene. The World Championships are certainly important, as are the Olympic Games, but what are we to make of the restrictive competitive environment within the Commonwealth Games?
Each country is allowed to enter three competitors in each individual event-the only international Games where we are still allowed this freedom. This could be considered a positive element, as it provides us with more racing slots to fill, and thus more opportunity to gain international experience. On the down side, it also provides the opportunity for a strong team to simply become more dominant by sweeping medals in any given event.
With so few nations competing in swimming at these Games, the heats are not often very competitive, with the better swimmers being reasonably assured of a final spot in their best events. Relay events are contested by only the bigger nations, with no need for heats, and usually every swimmer on these relays teams was assured a medal!
The following five figures/charts were compiled and reproduced by the author in the hope that it will provide a further understanding and recognition of Canada's role throughout its participation in these Games in swimming. As a final note, in order to clarify the different names given to these Games, the following evolution is offered:
1930, 1934, 1938, 1950-British Empire Games
1954, 1958, 1962-British Empire and Commonwealth Games
1966, 1970, 1974-British Commonwealth Games
1978 and onward-Commonwealth Games
The Commonwealth Games have been a mainstay of our international swimming program for 60 years. Canada was the inaugural site, and the country that hosted the Games the most times-four. We have enjoyed success in the swimming events at all of these Games, but with only three countries providing the vast majority of medallists over the years, the Commonwealth Games cannot be truly considered a major international swimming competition.
|4. New Zealand||13||24||27||64|
|6. South Africa||7||10||6||23|
|10. Isle of Man||-||-||1||1|
|Isle of Man||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0||1|
Canadian Participants in Three Games
George Burleigh 1930 - 1934 - 1938
William Mahoney 1966 - 1970 - 1974
Becky Smith 1974 - 1978 - 1982
Tom Ponting 1982 - 1986 - 1990
Andrea Nugent 1986 - 1990 - 1994
Canadian Medal Sweeps
1970 Men's 100 metres Butterfly
1. Byron MacDonald, 2. Tom Arusoo, 3. Ron Jacks
1982 Women's 200 metres Breaststroke
1. Anne Ottenbrite, 2. Kathy Bald, 3. Kathy Richardson
1982 100 metres Backstroke
1. Mike West, 2. Cam Henning, 3. Wade Flemons
Consecutive Games Winners
Dan Thompson 1978-1982 100 Fly
Mark Tewksbury 1986-1990 100 Back
Alex Baumann 1982-1986 200-400 IM
Elaine Tanner, 1966 (4 gold, 2 silver)
1st 100 Back, 100-200 Fly, 400 IM,
1st 4x100 Free
2nd 200 Back, 4x100 Medley
Graham Smith, 1978 (6 golds)
1st 100-200 Breast, 200-400 IM
1st 4x100 Free, 4x100 Medley
Ralph Hutton, 1966 (1 gold, 5 silvers, 2 bronze)
2nd 100-200 back, 400 IM
3rd, 400-1500 Free
1st 4 x 100 Medley
2nd 4 x 100 Free, 4 x 200 Free
Bill Sawchuk, 1978 (2 gold, 4 silvers, 2 bronze)
2nd 100 - 200 Free, 200 IM
3rd 100 Fly, 400 IM
1st 4x100 Free, 4x100 Medley
2nd 4 x 200 Free