Loud crowds, fast action and warm welcome as Games roll on

The opening days of the Commonwealth Games have seen medals won and loud and vibrant crowds everywhere.

Smithfield in Birmingham has two sports and a wonderful atmosphere in the festival site
Smithfield in Birmingham has two sports and a wonderful atmosphere in the festival site

The sheer scale of the Games has to be seen to be believed, with existing stadia working along new and temporary arenas to support the sheer demand for tickets to see the best athletes in the Commonwealth in action.

I've been lucky enough to get out and about around some of the venues and watch sports that I'm familiar with like rugby sevens, as well as sports I don't normally watch like 3x3 basketball.

At the Coventry Stadium, the rugby sevens competitions for men and women drew big crowds and produced some thrilling action.

I went to the morning session on Saturday with my mum and decided to drive and use the park and ride service provided by the Games due to the train strike disruptions.

Samoa and Sri Lanka go at it at the Coventry Stadium in the rugby sevens

It was a service which required a bit of walking, but was quick and got us to the stadium safely, with only a short walk to the ticketing area.

The enthusiasm of the volunteers is clear and very infectious, with each person from the team at the car park to the entrance to the stadium full of smiles and working to help people find their way around.

The scoreboard was kept busy over the 12 matches

The stadium itself is built to ensure you can get a good view wherever you sit, with our seats near an exit and near the middle of the stand, meaning an excellent view of the action we watched.

With 12 matches across the men's and women's competition, there was a lot to watch and the action was thick and fast, including two England vs New Zealand clashes and a cracking encounter between Australia and Kenya.

Having taken in competition on the outskirts of the Games, I then travelled into the heart of the host city to visit Smithfield, a newly-built temporary venue on the site of the former Bull Ring Markets and host of the beach volleyball and 3x3 basketball arenas.

The site also has a massive festival site built around it, with food and drink venues, as well as the opportunity to try different sports, such as how fast you can spike a volleyball (in my case, about 33 miles per hour).

The 3x3 basketball court was a hive of fun for the matches, with England putting on a show against Trinidad and Tobago

The 3x3 basketball arena brings a tremendous atmosphere, with seating on three sides of the court and entertainment put on by the B-Crew, a dance troupe, as well as a DJ and MC Tahir Hajat doing an excellent job of ramping up the atmosphere.

The sport itself is fast-paced and great fun to watch, with players putting in long range baskets and constantly moving to find space to score the 21 points needed to win the match.

I saw three matches, with England beating Trinidad and Tobago 21-6 in the men's competition, New Zealand beating Canada 21-11 and Canada beating a gallant Northern Ireland team 11-5 in the men's wheelchair competition.

Two of the competitors from the wheelchair match, Matthew Rollston from Northern Ireland and Colin Higgins from Canada, said the atmosphere and welcome they had received had been wonderful.

Matthew Rollson from Northern Ireland said he had been warmed by the letters from local school children

Matthew said: "It's been absolutely fantastic since we got here and I've been wanting to tell people how we've been getting letters from local school kids at our accommodation, which has been ready touching.

"It's wonderful to think 13-year-old kids are wishing us well and Birmingham has been really welcoming, with the volunteers making the show as good as it is."

Colin Higgins from Canada spoke about the warm welcome and enjoying playing in front of a noisy crowd

Colin said: "The crowd reaction has been amazing. We didn't have any crowd in Tokyo last year at the Olympics, so this the first chance we've had to play in front of a proper crowd and they're great fun.

"It's been a lot of fun being here and the volunteers are awesome, the venue and food have been awesome and I hope this continues on for us with a few wins."

The University of Birmingham is another venue hosting two sports on its premises, with a squash arena inside the main campus and a hockey stadium built next to the exit to the A38 and Selly Oak.

It also has a massive festival park outside with food and drink options, as well as areas to try out the sports, with a mini-squash court and an area to hit a hockey ball providing attractive.

The hockey arena at University of Birmingham was lively and noisy for England vs Canada

There was a big crowd on Sunday evening for two women's matches between England and Canada and Australia vs South Africa, with the atmosphere especially vibrant as those in attendance followed the Euro 2022 final at Wembley.

The hockey arena itself provides an excellent view of the action, with high banked seating looking over the pitch, and a DJ and MC providing entertainment and getting the crowd cheering.

Both games were entertaining affairs, with England edging out the Canadians by one goal to nil, while Australia eventually overcame dogged defence from South Africa to win 5-0.

In the crowd, there were a mixture of families, fans of hockey from local clubs and fans from all four of the supporting nations, with England getting the biggest cheers as home nation.

Canadian midfielder Amanda Woodcroft said the noise the fans were making had made the experience of playing there a great one for her.

She said: "I was surprised at how many fans were at our first game, which wasn't even against England, and it's been a great atmosphere to play in.

"There's been so much excitement around these Games and the volunteers have been absolutely incredible with the smiles on their faces, so it helps create a good space for us to play in."

Ajay Singh from India produces a successful lift in the weightlifting

Finally, Monday saw me head to the NEC, which has the greatest concentration of sports within the huge complex in Solihull as badminton, boxing, table tennis and wheelchair table tennis and weightlifting and para-weightlifting in the main complex and netball in the arena.

I watched the 81kg final of the men's weightlifting in Hall 1, another purpose-built temporary venue and one with a large and very noise crowd.

Weightlifting is all about brute strength and technique and the 12 athletes from countries such as India, Pakistan, Cameroon and Singapore put on a great show in their battle for gold.

The gold was won by Chris Murray from England, albeit after the final clean and jerk lift from Kyle Bruce of Australia was ruled a no-lift despite looking good to me.

The badminton court is colourful and provides fast action from the players

Across the hall is the Badminton court where the mixed team event semi-final between England and Malaysia was taking place.

The arena in the hall carried seating on all four sides, offering excellent views of the action, with every smash and lengthy rally met with thunderous applause from an almost-capacity crowd.

I'd played badminton when I was younger, but always forget how fast the game is, with both Tze Yong and Toby Penty moving as quickly as possible to get an advantage.

The Commonwealth Games run for another week and I would fully recommend getting down to an event.

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