Tales of tragedy, grit and determination from the Games

 BY the time Malaysia wakes up to read this article, the Malaysian contingent may have picked up their first medal from men’s team sprint in cycling or probably be just hours away from the first podium celebration in Birmingham via weightlifting.Athletes from 54 nations and 18 territories have flocked to Birmingham for the Commonwealth Games with a common dream – to return home with a medal around their neck.

In many ways, this is a “woke” Games. The women have been given priority – there are more medal events for women (135) than men (133) – and so have athletes of different sizes and abilities. This Games is the only multi-sport event that promotes equal standing for able-bodied sports and para-sport events.

The ribbon attached to the medal is adjustable, so it sits comfortably no matter the height of the athlete, or if it’s a para athlete.

The gold medals are not made of solid gold but rather a sterling silver core, plated with gold. Both the silver medals and the bronze medals, however, are made of the respective solid metals.

However, the Commonwealth Games has always been about the astonishing tales it has produced.

There is the tragic story of Emmanuel Ifeajuna, who won the high jump gold in 1954 in Vancouver Games wearing only one shoe.

He was the first ever black African to win a gold medal, in any sport in any international event.

Ifeajuna became a national hero in Nigeria but after staging a coup, was arrested for treachery and executed by firing squad years later.

There is also England pistol shooter Mick Gault. He competed at the Commonwealth Games on six occasions and won a total of 18 medals, nine of them golds. Incredibly, he never made it to the Olympics.

Our nation also have its own interesting stories about former gold medallists.

Koh Eng Tong was the nation’s first Commonwealth Games gold medallist when he won the featherweight category for weightlifting in 1950 in Auckland.

He was among four weightlifters who paid their own expenses to the Games without any funding from the government or sports organisations, something unheard of today.

Nurul Huda Baharin’s name may not ring a bell with the younger generation today but she was the toast of the country when Malaysia hosted the 1998 edition in Kuala Lumpur.

Nurul then won the 10m air rifle women’s event, making her the first Malaysian shooting Commonwealth Games gold medallist. What made the performance truly amazing was that she had broken her arm in a motorcycle accident just two months earlier. Malaysian athletes today can actually consider themselves lucky as all that is required of them is to turn up with their best performance on competition day and hope that’s good enough to get them on the podium.

Everything else is taken care of.

But not every athlete gets that privilege. Many need to raise funds on their own to be able to compete.

Take British Olympian hammer thrower Taylor Campbell. He had to sell some of his Tokyo 2020 merchandise on eBay to fund his preparations for the Commonwealth Games.

Campbell offered a limited edition Samsung Galaxy S21 phone with the Olympic rings etched onto it and earphones for sale.

His contract was not extended due to lockdown-enforced closures last year and he had to use his savings to get to the Tokyo Games in the first place.

So, good luck to all the Malaysian athletes and happy hunting.

You need not use up your savings like Campbell but you have to safeguard the country’s honour – and help the contingent surpass the six-gold target.

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