As sure as night follows day, the arrival of the Commonwealth Games every four years prompts its critics to belch forth the searing observation that it is not, in fact, the Olympics. The standard is just not as high, they cunningly point out, due to the lack of sporting giants like the USA and China.
Bravo to them, for they are correct, then, now and forever. Come the regional Victorian Games in 2026, they can be just as smug, safe in the knowledge that no Norwegian hurdlers or Iranian weightlifters will be robbing the host nation of gold medals that are rightfully ours to plunder.
It’s a base-level take based on the relevance of the Games to the consumer, not the athletes or the sports they represent. The Aldi Olympics they may be in terms of wider appeal but the Commonwealth Games have been an invaluable breeding ground that continues to turn rising athletes into world and Olympic champions.
Sports federations don’t look at the Commonwealth Games purely in terms of competitive output, although that’s always the aim of the game. What they do offer is a pared-down Olympic experience, complete with all the trimmings that can be the undoing of some competitors when they finally land on the grand stage.
There is village life, in tiny beds, with shared dorms that have athletes coming and going at all hours of the day or night. There are late finishes, with early starts, punctuated by hours on buses or vans, some of which turn up on time, others which may take a scenic route to a venue or training facility.
There are media commitments, some of which take on a life of their own and turn their week inside-out (ask Kyle Chalmers), and dining halls and COVID protocols and doping tests. It adds up to a small version of a big picture that makes the transition to an Olympic experience that much smoother.
On the field of play, or in the pool, the results continue to speak for themselves. Before Emma McKeon was an Olympic record-breaker, she was a prolific Commonwealth champion, having eight gold medals to her name before she even dipped her toe in the water in Birmingham.
And at the 2018 Games on the Gold Coast, the breakout star was a prolific Tasmanian teenager called Ariarne Titmus. One year later, she would beat Katie Ledecky at the FINA world championships, then go on to win dual gold in an unforgettable outing in Tokyo.