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Commonwealth Games Throwback | Victoria 1994

We continue our countdown to the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games with Bowls International columnist David Rhys Jones sharing his memories of the Games through the decades. David recently shared his memories of the 1986 Games in Edinburgh and 1990 Games in Auckland, but we now move to the Victoria 1994 Games in Canada.

What a place! A jewel in the crown of British Columbia of which it is the capital city. So traditional, with impressive civic buildings, red double-decker buses, and even horse drawn carriages. So much like London in that respect. But like Sydney, too, because this Vancouver Island paradise is built on a huge harbour. Impressive or what?

The Juan de Fuca complex where the lawn bowls events were staged was first rate, and the greenkeepers had prepared assiduously. Sadly, they were unlucky, and a lot of their work was undone by a fungus that attacked from below, and pitted the greens, causing hollows that made the bowls jump into the air. Hit a hollow, and you lost two yards; miss a hollow and you sped two yards through! It was so frustrating.

Our BBC commentary position had a roof, but was open-fronted, and was situated just a few feet from the green. This meant we – the late, great Jimmy Davidson and I – had to try hard to keep our emotions in check – and, in particular our voices low – for fear of disturbing a player on the mat, who was about to bowl the last wood of an end and was concentrating on saving a count.

The event was notable for the return of South Africa to the international fold after so many years in the sporting wilderness, and for the sad departure of Hong Kong, who were playing in their last games prior to the handover of the former colony to the Chinese in 1997.

Showing they had lost none of their skill, the South Africans made a triumphant statement by striking gold in the men’s and women’s fours – and I was honoured to be given the task of providing the voice-over to an emotional medal ceremony.

History was made when Donny Piketh, Alan Lofthouse, Robbie Rayfield and Neil Burkett stood proudly on the podium to receive their gold medals – it was the first time, in any sport, that the new South African flag was raised to the sound of the new national anthem. Anna Pretorious, Lorna Trigwell (now Smith), Hester Bekker and Colleen Grondein won the women’s fours.

Two years earlier, in the world championships in Worthing, England’s Tony Allcock had beaten Scotland’s Richard Corsie in the singles final, but this time the tables were turned, with Corsie beating Allcock to men’s singles gold.

The remarkable Margaret Johnston won the women’s singles, beating Welsh star Rita Jones in the final, while Cameron Curtis and Rex Johnston won the men’s pairs for Australia, and Scots duo Sarah Gourlay (wife of David, snr, and mother of David, jnr) and Frances Whyte walked off with the women’s pairs title

As we get nearer to the Birmingham 2022 Games, we will be sharing further Commonwealth Games memories from DRJ, along with interviews and features with other Commonwealth Games stars past and present.

Bowls International is the world’s most respected bowling magazine, available monthly in both digital and print formats. A comprehensive Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games supplement is included in July’s issue of Bowls International.

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