As the last plaintive strains of the bagpipes drifted over the dormant volcano called Arthur’s Seat behind Edinburgh’s Meadowbank Stadium, the electronic scoreboard conveyed an optimistic message: “See you in Auckland.” But by the closing ceremonies of the XIII Commonwealth Games last week, the future of the Games—and the Commonwealth itself—was as unsettled as the North Sea. The deficit for Edinburgh threatened to reach $8 million. The athletes left the stadium with medals sharply devalued by a 32-nation, anti-apartheid boycott. And organizers of the next Games returned to New Zealand with a vivid preview of the kind of financial and organizational problems they could confront in 1990.
For participants and spectators, the XIII Games will be remembered principally for the international crisis that served as its backdrop and for the individual triumphs and tragedies. There was England’s Daley Thompson who won his third consecutive Commonwealth gold medal in the decathlon, Scotland’s 22-year-old Liz Lynch who won the Games’ first women’s 10,000m race, and 13-year-old swimmer Allison Higson of Brampton, Ont., whose two gold medals made her the youngest champion in the history of the Games. The Games were memorable for Canadian swimmer Victor Davis for a different reason. The 22-year-old from Waterloo, Ont., won the gold medal for the 100-m breast stroke, but lost the 200-m event for which he holds the world record. Said Davis: “My apologies to Canada. Second is for losers. I will never forget these Games.”
Nor will Britain’s prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. She was booed, and her car was splattered with eggs and tomatoes when she arrived in Meadowbank Stadium. Thatcher’s staunch refusal to impose economic sanctions against South Africa precipitated the boycott. While officials from participating Commonwealth teams decided not to penalize the nations that boycotted Edinburgh, they resolved to maintain pressure on Commonwealth leaders not to boycott the next Games and to reduce their financial dependence on governments. Said Michael Fennell, president of the Jamaican sports federation: “These issues are going to crop up again and again.”
But for superstar athletes, such as Canada’s Davis and sprinter Ben Johnson, the Games are little more than a quadrennial stop on their annual round of meets and championships. Both left Edinburgh with grander goals in sight: Johnson for track meets in Budapest and Zurich on Aug. 11 and 13; and Davis for the World Swimming Championships in Madrid starting on Aug. 14.
In Edinburgh, one of the veteran winners was England’s decathlon champion, Thompson. But the 28-year-old world record holder and Olympic champion also offended the Games’ $4-million sponsor, the Guinness company, by covering the brand name on his competitor’s bib. When the brewery protested, nondrinker Thompson wore an altered version of the slogan on the back of his sweatshirt during his lap of honor around the stadium after winning the gold. Then, refusing to appear at a press conference, Thompson shouted: “Don’t you understand bloody English. I’m
not bloody well going. Now go piss off.” Said Canadian sprinter#. Angella Issajenko, who won the gold medal for the 200 m: “He is a great athlete, but he’s not my hero. He is not anybody’s hero.”
In contrast, Davis was a model of diplomacy—despite his suprising loss, the first since 1981, and in contrast to his chair-kicking in 1982 in front of Queen Elizabeth at the Brisbane Games. In Edinburgh, after losing to England’s Adrian Moorhouse, Davis handed the 1 obviously delighted Queen a Team Canada Frisbee. And later at a press conference he said: “To me, a great champion is one who can win, take a loss and come i back and win. I hope I can be a great J champion. If I don’t win at the Worlds, I I’m not coming home.”
Johnson said he planned to make an assault on the 100-m sprint world record of 9.93 seconds later this month. The wet Scottish weather and the lack of competition caused by the boycott conspired against Johnson at the Games. Said the 24-year-old Jamaican-born sprinter, who ran the j second-fastest 100-m ever in Moscow | last month: “The competition and the weather will be better in Europe. I j think I can break the record this summer.” Looking to the future in Auckland, officials of the Commonwealth Games Federation had less reason to boast. Try as they might, keeping politics off the track and the field will be an Olympian feat.
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