Commonwealth Games 2022 Recap
A few days ago I returned from competing in the Commonwealth Games, which were held in Birmingham, England!
The games were held from July 28th to August 8th, and unlike most events, squash ran the entire time! The singles events were played from July 28th to August 3rd, followed by doubles from August 3rd to August 8th. For those of us playing more than one event, it was a lot of squash, but I for one loved it!
There's absolutely no way that I could do an entire recap of the ~3 weeks (1 week training camp + ~2 weeks competition), without writing a novel or boring you to tears, so I figured I'd section this post into highlights and lowlights. (FYI- it's 95% highlights, but I'm including a couple lowlights to be real with you!).
Commonwealth Games Highlights
Playing on the Showcourt
After a relatively comfortable first match on the back courts, I had the opportunity to compete on the amazing all-glass show court!
The atmosphere in the squash center was hands down the best experience that I've ever encountered as a professional squash player, and many other pros who have had loads more experience competing in front of crowds at large events said the same. The venue seated a little over 1700 people, and it was nearly full for the majority of the matches! Furthermore, the fans were enthusiastic and loud. The sound of their cheering when Ias w announced and ran on to the court gave me chills!
While the ambiance and experience of playing on the show court was superb, the match result was not. I had a tough draw, and was up against the 3/4 seed and world #8, Gina Kennedy from England.
Gina was a medal favourite going in, and was the eventual gold medal winner and champion in the women's singles. She is incredibly quick, consistent, and intense, and this makes it extremely challenging to get a single point off of her. There aren't many pros who retrieve as many balls as Gina, are so stingy with their error count, and fight for every point like it's match ball.
Although I lost, it was great to test myself against a top 10 player and see what weaknesses were exposed. (Hint... lots).
Athlete Village: Dining/Food, Laundry, Hair/Beauty, On-Campus Gym
I'd never stayed in a proper athletes village before, so I didn't really know what to expect. What amazed me the most was how everything was taken care of. Seriously- anything you might need (food, laundry, medical services, housekeeping, haircuts, gym/recovery center) were all provided free of charge for the athletes and staff.
Having everything taken care of- especially convenient dining and laundry options- made it so easy to focus on your training and competition, and not worry about daily life tasks. (Although, truth be told, at home I actually like grocery shopping and cooking, and Jaymie does the cooking in our house, so... I have a pretty good deal as it is 🤓).
Team Canada Physio & Massage (Brigitte and Monty)
This was a pleasant surprise! Some sports teams opt to bring their own physios and massage therapists, but squash Canada did not. Therefore, we ended up spending a lot of time getting to know the Team Canada physio & massage therapists!
Brigitte was already familiar with squash, because she accompanied the Canadian juniors to the Pan Ams last November in Colombia. However, this was Monty's first time working with squash, so a lot of our discussions revolved around the specific movement patterns and common injuries found in squash players.
Family & Friends
As soon as it was confirmed that I'd be representing Canada at the Commonwealth Games, my dad and my cousin, Bob, wasted no time looking for flights and accommodation so they could come watch!
It was so great to have them both there cheering and supporting! They also managed to go watch Rugby 7's in Coventry, and my dad caught some of the Cricket, which was being played nearby at Edgbaston Stadium.
One of my best friends from Princeton, Nana, also made the trip up from London to watch me play Gina.
I don't get to see Nana very often, especially since he recently moved from London back to Ghana. So when he messaged me to say he was going to take the train up to Birmingham to come watch, I was stoked!
Volunteers & Staff
One of the unexpected highlights of the games was the friendliness & helpful nature of the volunteers and staff. These folks were proactive, and went out of their way to ensure you had the right information and everything you needed. They all seemed so eager and excited to be working, and I found it really contributed positively to the atmosphere!
Team Canada Success
While my own games left something to be desired (more on that in the lowlights section below...), the rest of the Canadian Squash team had some fantastic results.
Hollie had a fantastic run in the singles, reaching the finals and capturing a silver medal. You could tell she was focused from the get-go, (where she only lost about 5 points the entire match) and that she was looking to carry that form and mindset through the entire event.
The boys, David and Nick, also had a good run in the singles event, losing out in the round of 16. However, the real excitement came when they beat Wales 2-0 in doubles, and then narrowly lost out 2-1 to eventual the English silver medalists in the quarter finals. Considering they'd only played one event together prior to the Commonwealth Games (World Doubles earlier this spring), this was a phenomenal showing of partnership and strategy!
Commonwealth Games Lowlights
The overall process to purchase tickets online was very clunky and difficult. Furthermore, us athletes weren't given any tickets for friends or family, or even for other athletes to come and watch. It was stressful to worry about finding tickets for friends/family while getting ready to play! Also, since there were limited seats upstairs on the side courts, ticket-holders had to queue and hope they could get in to see a match. This was probably the most frustrating part, because there was lots of empty space which was reserved for VIPs etc, while ticket holders were literally waiting around the corner hoping to get in. Eventually, the squash managers were able to find a solution, by simply reserving a few seats for your friends/family if you were playing.
Hollie in particular had a very difficult time securing tickets because a lot of her family is English, and had driven down from up north to watch her compete in the later stages of singles. Everyone was sorted with a ticket in the end, but it was a big hassle!
In North America, "doubles" is generally played on a taller, wider, and longer court, with a hardball. (It's called hardball doubles). In the rest of the world, doubles is played with a normal soft ball, on a wider court, and with a 13 inch tin.
Going into the games, I'd never played true softball doubles (on the wide court + low tin). I'd played "dingles" (doubles on a singles court), and hardball doubles, but had never played this version of softball doubles!
Upon arriving in the UK, the team held a short training camp in London prior to entering the athletes village. The entire weekend was spent playing doubles matches, as we hoped to cram in as much practice as possible! It was helpful, and I found myself getting the hang of the movement and strategy in practice matches, however once we got into the real competition, things changed.
The strategy and the shot variety you hit in doubles is different to singles. There's a lot more play down the middle which tests your hands & reaction, and the angles are different. Cross courts need to be hit wider to reach the side wall, and boasts are best hit as narrow trickles, rather than the typical 2 or 3 wall boast you'd see in singles. You hit a lot of shots at your opponent's body, and try to get them to turn to hit it on their backhand in the middle of the court. Yes, you hit normal straight drives and drops, but it's not nearly as structured as singles in that way.
Learning the positioning, the patterns, and shot options takes some time to learn, and if it's not ingrained, it'll be exposed under pressure. Furthermore, doubles is best of 3 games, sudden death at 10-10, so if you're having short rallies, the whole match can be over in as little as 15 minutes, without feeling like you've even broken a sweat! This was super annoying! Getting a good start in each game (especially the first) is crucial, and momentum swings are ever apparent. I was aware of this, but I didn't have the ability and knowledge to be assertive and hit the right shots at the right time.
All in all, it was a learning process. I just hope we can get more doubles practice in before Pan Am games in Chile next year!
I'm now back in NYC, catching up with work & clients, and getting back into pre-season training. My first tournament is in Houston in a little over 3 weeks, so it's time to ramp things up again!
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