Commonwealth Games: Event remains special for African competitors

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Nigeria's Ese Brume celebrates her long jump victory at the Commonwealth Games in BirminghamNigeria's Ese Brume set a new Commonwealth Games record as she won long jump gold

The 22nd edition of the Commonwealth Games ended on Monday with Nigeria the top-performing African country in Birmingham following a record haul of 35 medals.

Africa's most populous nation topped the continent's medal table for the first time since 1994, with South Africa second and Kenya third.

However, the multi-sport event has its critics - not least for the £778m ($952.6m) cost of staging it this year and its battle to remain relevant in a packed calendar.

Kenyan middle-distance runner Conseslus Kipruto believes the importance of this cannot be underestimated.

"The Commonwealth Games is a big event. It's almost like an Olympic event because many countries come to compete," the 27-year-old told BBC Sport Africa.

"We ran a good steeplechase event for example, very competitive.

"We always come to compete as we were colonised by the British. We come to battle for these medals - it's always good to have a Commonwealth gold medal in your cabinet."

The 2016 Olympic and two-time world steeplechase champion may have finished fourth in Birmingham, but deeply adores his gold from the Gold Coast Games four years ago.

"It doesn't come with any money because it is not included in the contracts we have, but it's good to represent your country and gauge yourself," he added.

"I won it in 2018 and I am happy I have a gold from the Commonwealth Games."

A 'pinnacle' for some sports

Botswana's Lephai Marea Modutlwa competes in the lawn bowls at the Commonwealth Games in BirminghamBotswana's lawn bowls players got the chance to compete in Birmingham

The Games, which were first held in Canada in 1930, feature athletes from 72 countries - mostly former British colonies.

However, the last four countries to join the Commonwealth of Nations - Rwanda, Mozambique, Gabon, and Togo - have no historical ties to the British Empire.

Some argue that the Games lack the Olympics spirit and appeal, but participants from Africa enjoys the national pride, glory and exposure on offer.

Birmingham 2022 became the first major multi-sport event to hand out more medals to women than men and one of those champions, Folashade Oluwafemiayo, says the quadrennial event has a place in the hearts of Nigerians.

"I was hoping to be at my first Commonwealth Games because it's special to Nigeria," the world record-setting powerlifter told BBC Sport Africa.

"To win gold here makes it more special. I've also discovered there are lots of sports at the Games which African countries don't have, so I'm imploring the African countries to develop more sports."

Lawn bowls player Lephai Marea Modutlwa, meanwhile, was delighted to participate in an event that is yet to get an Olympics approval.

"The Commonwealth Games are very relevant to lawn bowls because it is the pinnacle of our sport," the Botswanan said.

"Competing here is a great honour. We have lots of good bowlers who have never had opportunity to compete at the Games but finally did in Birmingham."

Nigeria's Tobi Amusan celebrates winning gold at the Commonwealth Games in BirminghamTobi Amusan added the Commonwealth 100m hurdles crown to her World Championships success in Eugene last month - and then she helped Nigeria to 4x100m relay gold in Birmingham

The lure of a large audience and national pride was enough to convince world 100m hurdles champion and record holder Tobi Amusan to compete in Birmingham.

As the athletics reached its climax and the likes of Jamaican sprint stars Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson were racing at a more lucrative Diamond League event in Poland, Amusan was claiming two golds for Nigeria.

Meanwhile, compatriot Ese Brume set a new Games record with a leap of 7.00 metres to regain her long jump title, adding a second Commonwealth gold to the one she claimed in Glasgow in 2014.

"The Commonwealth Games is very massive and whenever it's time to represent my country, and I get the chance to attend I never hesitate to do that," the three-time African champion said.

"This gold means a lot and I hope it will inspire other young athletes to aim high, work hard and grow up to become champions one day."

Encouraging the next generation

Along with sports not included in the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games also offers a chance to those not able to qualify for world championships and younger athletes at the beginning of their careers.

Tanzanian powerlifter Yohana Assa Mwila finally participate in the first major competition of his career at the age of 38.

"This is a big event that is attracting countries that was never colonized by Britain; countries like Rwanda, Mozambique, Togo are also here, next we will see Ethiopia," he said.

"It teaches us more about friendship. We meet different people from different countries. It gives us some good lessons.

"The dream of every athlete is to see their national anthem being played at such events. I am inspired by just participating and attending."

Mozambican boxer Tiago Osorio Muxanga and South African triathlete Jamie Riddle, 22, were also debutants and the latter said representing his country had been "a lifelong goal".

"I didn't really get the true message of the Commonwealth Games until I watched the opening ceremony," Riddle added.

"I think the whole point is to bring us all together and, through sports, unite people."

Mozambique's Tiago Osorio MuxangaMozambique's Tiago Osorio Muxanga took silver after defeat by Northern Ireland's Aidan Walsh in his boxing final

Muxanga, a 21-year-old who won a silver medal in the men's light-middleweight division, said: "This means a lot for me, because I represent something like 10 million people in Mozambique who are suffering, who are fighting for a good life.

"This Games can inspire more youth people to follow boxing or other sport. I think this will inspire more young people in Mozambique to follow their dreams."

For Maxwell Jele of Eswatini's Olympic and Commonwealth Games Association, Birmingham offered the tiny Southern African nation a great opportunity to showcase its athletes.

"We brought a relatively small team compared to other countries, however we ensured a good mix of sporting codes and gender." Jele told BBC Sport Africa.

"We set out objectives based on our long-term strategy and focused on athletes that are building towards a bright future."

The Games is yet to be staged in Africa, but the world's second-most populous continent remains committed to the Commonwealth Games.

Africa's medal table at the 2022 Commonwealth Games in BirminghamSix African countries won gold medals in Birmingham
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