City of gold

Seeing Usain Bolt’s celebrations at the World Championships in Beijing made me think back to the last time we saw him celebrating major medal success – at Hampden. Wearing a tartan bunnet. Dancing to the Proclaimers.

I spoke to Glasgow 2014 chief executive David Grevemberg in July to take a look back at those amazing Commonwealth Games, one year on.

This article was first published in the Scottish Daily Mail (23/07/15)

One year on, but the memories have yet to fade of that thrilling summer of sport SPECIAL REPORT

HE built it and they came. David Grevemberg, a man who grew up in Louisiana, was the site manager making sure every brick, every piece of the Commonwealth Games puzzle, was fitting perfectly into place last summer — and that it was being done with an authentically Scottish accent.

Glasgow 2014 had a tough act to follow, given the acclaim that London’s Olympics two years previously had deservedly garnered. But the Dear Green Place went in its own direction and promptly put on a distinctive and astonishing sporting show that left a lasting mark on the city, the country and the wider world. When a grinning Usain Bolt is in a ‘See You Jimmy’ hat, dancing on the track to The Proclaimers, it’s a sign that something is going right.

Make no mistake, people across the globe sat up and took real notice of what was happening on these shores — and were left nothing but impressed. The memories burn brightly still and it is difficult to comprehend that a year has already passed since. ll nd ince mself d i Parkhead hosted a night of giant Tunnock’s Teacakes, Scottish Terriers and Sir Chris Hoy proving himself a national hero (again) when he stepped into help the final baton handover to Her Majesty the Quieen as the curtain was lifted on an event the like of which had never been experienced by this nation.

Grevemberg was chief executive of the event and finds himself still consumed by all things Commonwealth in his new role as chief executive of the Commonwealth Games Federation. His job now is to continue improving the profile of a brand severely tarnished by the shambles of Delhi 2010, but which was dusted down and polished to a fine sheen and given the chance to gleam in the spotlight.

He takes little persuading, however, to cast his mind and recall what unfolded across venues new, old and — in Hampden’s case — innovatively transformed. It helped that Team Scotland rose to the occasion, responding to the unashamedly raucous crowds by winning an unprecedented number of medals. But it is not just the compelling sport that sticks in Grevemberg’s mind.

‘The joy of people,’ he smiles. ‘The one thing that just came out time after time after time was how joyful people were. The joy that people experienced in Glasgow last year was not only everything it was cracked up to be, it was much more.

‘I think that’s my enduring memory — people just so proud and so happy to be a part of this moment in time. To have played a part in making that possible was just an enormous honour and privilege. Everyone got into it, made it their own — and that’s what made it great.’ Glasgow has not quite felt like the same place since. Rarely has the city or its people lacked in confidence, but there is no doubt the Games added an extra swagger, which looks like remaining.

‘In many respects, the place has taken something from the Games which is really this kind of enduring self-belief — in its brand, in its pride,’ says Grevemberg.

‘I’m not saying that hasn’t been there before. Glasgow has made so many bold statements, bold inventions… bold movements have been derived from this great city and I think this is just another example of when Glaswegians and Scots put their muscle and backbone and heart into something, it changes the world.

‘And it did. It changed the world of sport in so many ways. In my current role I get to be an evangelist for that journey but, at the same time, I get to be a witness to the impact this event has had globally.’

That impact is not to be underestimated. The Scottish public have become accustomed to major events wanting to show themselves off in Glasgow.

From Davis Cup tennis to worldclass cycling and swimming to the World Gymnastics Championships which arrive by the Clyde later this year, it is clear the Commonwealth Games planted a sizeable signpost which many of the finest performers on the planet have been only too happy to follow.

‘It has solidified Glasgow’s place as an entertainment and sporting destination, there is no question,’ adds Grevemberg. ‘Successful entertainment and events are synonymous with the city of Glasgow now. Big events, world championships… you name it, we can do it. Single sport events? Easy!’ he laughs.

It took a long time for the Olympic dust to settle after the unadulterated triumph that was London 2012. Those games served as a reminder, if one were needed, of the insatiable appetite the British public has for sport and, once Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis and Co had packed up their kitbags, the people wanted more — to find out where they were going to get their next fix from. That is when the spotlight really began to fall on Glasgow.

Grevemberg, however, was far from daunted.

‘After London 2012, many people asked me: “Well, how are you going to beat that?” and I looked at them and said: “We’re not.” I wouldn’t dare go into Glasgow and tell a taxi driver that he needs to be more like a London taxi driver. You know how that would go over!

‘When I was interviewed down in was wn London during 2012, I said: “I make no apologies for not trying to be like the Olympics. I’m very confident that by having a great Commonwealth Games in a great Commonwealth City in Glasgow, we’ll be all right. And we’ll do it our way and we’ll be distinct.” I knew that if we stuck to that then we wouldn’t lose our character, that we would always try to stay true to the people of Glasgow and the people of Scotland. The Commonwealth, too.’4947 athletes that in the Games, from 71 nations territories.

After so much planning, so much work, Grevemberg insists he kne insists months before opening night that everything was going to work out just fine. However, to say progress was entirely serene with not so much as a bump in the road — or the Red Road to be more precise — would be wide of the mark.

When it emerged last spring that part of the opening ceremony plans involved the demolition of five of the city’s most infamous tower blocks, the public outcry was fierce.

More than 17,000 people signed a petition opposing the plan, which was duly dropped from the schedule. There were problems, too, with the ticketing system and website as the clamour for a piece of the action intensified.

These kind of blows could have been crippling but the punches were rolled with and, clearly a man whose glass is never going to be half empty, Grevemberg is of the opinion that even the setbacks proved to be strengths.

So when did he know it was all going to be OK? ‘I would say February 2014, it kind of hit,’ he says. ‘For me, it was just a case of: “Yeah, we’ve got it.” When I saw the opening ceremony final cut scripts, I knew where we were going with that was going to be really, really good.

‘We had some challenges — the Red Road issue and the ticketing system — but both of those were great tests of our character and our personality as an organisation and as a Games.

‘If anything, we want people to judge us on how we resolved issues, how we handled their concerns. And I think those two episodes were really important.

‘The thing is that no one had ever done this before in Glasgow, so this was new for everyone — and everyone pulled out the stops to make it happen.’ Pulling out those stops involved the creation of new facilities and regeneration but also a hefty dose of lateral thinking.

Nowhere was this more evident than the transformation of Hampden Park. By dropping an athletics track into the old lady of Mount Florida, rather than go to the expense of finding ways to build an entirely new athletics arena, a number of very sizeable problems were solved.

The risk of attempting what was a world first was rewarded, with more than a few commenting Scottish football’s home may actually work better as a track and field venue.

‘There were quite a few people who said: “You should just leave it the way it is” but I just said: “I don’t want the Tartan Army coming after me!”‘ laughs Grevemberg.

‘I remember getting a real sense of what Hampden, this iconic venue, meant to people. So, in preserving it but also using it as such a showcase and the refurbishment of Queen’s Park next door… all of that community element was really, really important.

‘That solution has won worldwide acclaim as “the Glasgow solution” by the IAAF as a way of making athletics more accessible to more venues worldwide. It’s the talk of the town.’ Hampden is back in its more normal guise these days, with the track now in use elsewhere in the city and also in Grangemouth. But it’s the newer venues, such as The SSE Hydro and the Emirates Arena, which still stand out as monuments to what Glasgow achieved.

As Grevemberg points out, though, the legacy of Glasgow’s Games is not just about the changing cityscape.

‘The key is that legacy is not something that happens to you it happens by you,’ he says. ‘I’ve said that for years but it’s so, so true and I think now what needs to continue is to encourage people to reflect on: “Am I doing this because I was inspired by the Games?” and give credit to that. That is the enduring legacy that: “This has motivated me, this has given me a different perspective, I’m trying something new.” Erraid became the athlete ever to Scotland in a She and the erupted! I really feel that whilst the bricks and mortar are very communal, what people choose to do with legacy and to do something different — are they volunteering, are they working out? Legacy is what you make of it.

‘Grevemberg’s personal legacy from the Games is the job of safeguarding the Commonwealth movement, so it is unlikely he will be short of things to occupy his time.

Before the Gold Coast hosts the 2018 Games, there are two youth Games — in Samoa this September and St Lucia in 2017 — to be getting on with.

You sense, too, that he is continuing to blow a real wind of change through an event which is having to work fiercely to keep its place on the world stage.

He insists, though, that such a task has only been made easier by what he did last summer.

‘I feel responsible,’ he says. ‘To keep the pedal to the metal so to speak and keep pushing the success of what was realised here and taking that further afield.

‘Every place is different, every context is different and the way it was done in Glasgow may have to work differently in another place. But I think what we’ve shown is that when you get great people and great partnerships, people working together, with a common purpose, we can develop common wealth.

‘That continuum is so important and what I feel now is a sense of opportunity but also a sense of responsibility not to let the good work that Glasgow has created lie at rest. We continue the momentum and just keep pushing this thing forward because I think it can just keep growing.’


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