Experiences of the 2018 Commonwealth Games

Our Devon bowlers who were part of the English team in the recent Commonwealth Games have now returned home. Many found it straightforward to see the results and follow the progress of the players, but coverage on the B.B.C. was sparse, to say the least. I know that Carol, our Bowls Devon Administrator has contacted Bowls England about this, and her letter and the response from Bowls England have been circulated. Through Kay Page, I asked Natalie Chestney for her comments on a number of points I put to her about her experiences at the Games.
I asked about the pace of the greens and was this a great advantage to the bowlers from that part of the world. Natalie’s response was that “the greens were slower than expected to begin with as there had been quite a lot of rain, but they reached 17+ seconds towards the end of the Games on one of the greens which was extremely quick and difficult to manage. It is impossible to replicate surfaces over there in this country for training purposes. The speeds are like indoor greens, but the pace and lines are constantly changing depending on the weather, wind or time of day. So the shot selection and game tactics are very different to how we would play in the U.K. The greens were definitely an advantage to the Southern Hemisphere countries, but there were some very mixed results as it was hard to be consistent and our groups were so small that one slip-up could cost you group qualification.”
On the question as to whether there was sufficient time spent on preparation for the Games, Natalie felt that both the team was not picked early enough and, when picked, the time was not utilised by the players as well as it might have been. There was a test series/trial in Australia with a larger squad, and the team was announced last November. Two weekends were spent at the Erewash Indoor Club before leaving for Australia. Natalie’s view was that the team was under-prepared when compared to some other countries. For example, India had been in Australia since January, Malaysia since February and, of course, Australia could practise on the venue greens. The obvious question here is funding (or lack of it), but Scotland seem to be showing the way as far as the British Isles are concerned.
There were some surprising results against “lesser known” countries, as far as Bowls is concerned, but Natalie felt that these countries are really advancing with professional approaches to the sport and we are now lagging behind. Also, I gather that, where a bowler was listed as representing for example the Norfolk Islands, in a lot of cases the bowlers actually lived in Australia and were used to the conditions and they represented their country through a family link. Other sports allow it, but perhaps it gives a false impression when looking at the results.
I asked about Natalie’s experience of the Athletes Village and the bowling venue, and she commented that “the Athletes Village was really fantastic – the best yet I would say with great facilities and really nice apartments. The greens were also probably the best we have played on (compared to Delhi and Glasgow). Broadbeach Bowls Club has got to be in one of the best locations on Earth so it was a pleasure playing there. Unfortunately the food we were provided during competition wasn’t really adequate, and you had to play two games in one day to
be provided with a lunch voucher! If you were there supporting team mates, you had to go back to the Village to eat (a 30 min. ‘bus ride away) which wasn’t really ideal!”
I asked about the opening and closing ceremonies and an overall comparison of the 2018 Games with Natalie’s other experiences of such events. I wondered whether the format of only playing 15 ends was a disadvantage as, quite often, the “better” bowler will win through over a longer game. In answer to this, I learned something. This format has been used in the last four Commonwealth Games/World Championships. The players are used to it and know what to expect.
The stadium used for the opening ceremony was not as large and did not have the atmosphere as the one used at the Glasgow Games, but Natalie felt that it was still a fantastic evening. Three bowlers from the Visually Impaired Squad took part in the closing ceremony, but they were not that impressed and left early. Finally, as a comparison, Natalie states that “I am of course bitterly disappointed to not come away with a medal. You sacrifice a lot to play bowls at this level and these opportunities only come around every four years. So we will have to wait a while to have another go if we are lucky enough to be selected! Considering our preparation for the Games, to come away with three Bronze medals is a fantastic achievement and something the team should be proud of.”
The men also achieved five Bronze medals through Robert Paxton in the Singles and Louis Ridout, Jamie Chestney and Sam Tolchard as part of the Fours.