Exclusive: Olympic sprinter Darren Campbell recalls Manchester’s Commonwealth Games a decade on

 By Steven Oldham, Sports Correspondent

As the London 2012 Olympic Games finally begin today, it is easy to forget that ten years ago today that the Commonwealth Games were being held in Manchester. 

Sprinter Darren Campbell – who grew up in Moss Side – was given the honour of carrying the English flag at the opening ceremony at the purpose-built City of Manchester Stadium on July 25, 2002. 

Unlike the Olympics, the Home Nations compete under their own flag at the Commonwealths, so Team GB doesn’t exist. 

Darren said: “Carrying the England flag into the stadium will stay with me for the rest of my life. 

“I’d been injured most of the season, but the thought of competing in front of my home crowd spurred me on.” 

Darren – who was part of the gold-medal winning 4x100m relay team as well as an individual 200m – looks back fondly on the Games, and not just because of his own success.

“I’m a proud Mancunian. It’s a fantastic city. e Commonwealths were a massive success story for Manchester. 

People were stopping me in the street in the build up to the Games to tell me they’d bought tickets for my final – I hadn’t even got through the heats then, yet people believed in me.” 

The 38-year-old believes the fan support was instrumental in his success. 

He recalled: “The people of Manchester really wanted me to do well. I have no doubt I wouldn’t have achieved what I did without their support – I still have no idea how I won that bronze medal!” 

Personal triumphs aside, the Commonwealths gave Manchester a huge legacy in terms of stadia, participation and volunteering – 10,000 people willingly gave their time free of charge.

Without the Games, Manchester City would probably still be playing at Maine Road, as they moved into what would become the Etihad Stadium after the Commonwealths had finished. 

Owning the state-of-the-art stadium is widely considered to being a big factor in Sheikh Mansour’s takeover of the club, and the unprecedented investment Blues fans have witnessed would not have been possible. 

The benefits of the takeover are there to be seen in City’s trophy cabinet – a first Premier League title and a 2011 FA Cup win, the club’s first major silverware in decades. 

As well as the Etihad, the Games’ sporting legacy can be seen through the SportsCity complex – British Cycling are based at the Velodrome (which became the National Cycling Centre), and the highly successful Olympic team has been based here ever since, including the likes of Sir Chris Hoy and Rebecca Romero. 

The complex is also home to the National Squash Centre, with the sport being one of the Commonwealth’s core sports, alongside the likes of cycling, swimming and athletics.

Manchester Aquatics Centre, situated just off Oxford Road has become the home to Great Britain’s first water polo teams to enter the Games in over 50 years and has also hosted regional and national competitions. 

The Centre was another purpose-built structure, costing a cool £32m before being opened in October 2000 by Queen Elizabeth II. 

Darren said: “There’s always a buzz at SportsCity because there’s always something happening – be it football, squash tournaments or a Revolution cycling event.

I really hope London have spoken to Manchester about the legacy – a lot of work went into making sure none of the stadia turned into white elephants, unlike what has happened to some of the developments in Beijing.” 

Besides the stadia, another important part of the legacy is increased participation in the sports on show, and Campbell is confident that this has happened. 

“The legacy is ongoing – communities have benefitted and more kids are taking part in sport regularly than before the Games. 

I’m biased, but Manchester definitely deserves its’ success!” 

Darren’s two medals helped England to second place in the medal table, behind Australia and ahead of Canada, India and New Zealand. 

With ten years passed since the Games were held here, does it seem that long to Darren? 

“It’s madness that it’s ten years ago.  The only way I know that it is ten years ago is because my kids have grown so much in that time!” 

“My oldest son was in the crowd watching me when I won the bronze. 

It shows what a success the Commonwealths were for our city that people don’t realise that a decade has passed since they happened.” 

Follow @campbelldarren and @spoldham on Twitter 

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