Gotland gives it a go

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TWO years prior, Jersey had put on the biggest and best Island Games spectacular seen so far. Now, it was Gotland’s turn to put on a party like it was 1999.

The turn of the millennium was nigh, the euro currency had been established, bringing more economic unison to the continent, Manchester United had won the treble and all was right with the world.

Gotland, with its medieval capital Visby, is Sweden’s largest island and had been present at all the Island Games so far. Their best finish in the medal table was third, in Isle of Wight in 1993, with 18½ gold medals, but with home advantage they romped to the top with 37 golds, along with 27 silver and 29 bronze.

Gotland also holds the Stanga Games every year, otherwise known as the Gotland Olympic Games, that include ancient sports native only to the island – a Gutnish Highland Games, if you will. Such sports include varpa, where you throw a flat, heavy object towards a stick 20 metres away, and Paerk, which is described as somewhere between baseball and tennis without bats or rackets, though watch a YouTube video of the game and it’s anyone’s guess what is going on. Like the Highland Games, the caber toss is also competed.

Nevertheless, none of these sports were included in the Island Games in Gotland. Gymnastics tumbled out of the scheduling but two new sports were introduced: basketball and ten pin bowling, which Gotland all but cleaned up in as far as golds were concerned (although they did have to settle for bronze in the men’s basketball).

The number of participating islands also increased, to 22. Iceland had now completely severed their links to the Games, having only competed in shooting in recent editions. The Prince Edward Island made a comeback, while the more exotic locations of Rhodes and Cayman Islands were welcomed into the fold. It was also the first Island Games under the new sponsorship of NatWest.

Jersey had topped the medal table on each of the previous three Island Games but this time they had to settle for third, with 24 golds, 30 silvers and 29 bronzes. It would have hurt too that Guernsey finished above them, in second.

As per normal, most of Caesarean success was concentrated in shooting and swimming. Handy with the metal were the usual suspects: David Ward, Derek Bernard and Bob Blake. Out of 22 handheld shooting events, Jersey won eight, all of them by the aforementioned three in some combination or other, along with Francis Devonald and Michael Flynn. George Arnold and Gerry Weir won team gold in the Whitworth class of black powder shooting (an antiquity rifle from the American civil war), Bruce Andrews topped the podium in the 300m prone free rifle, while Mark Andrews and Jim Davies won the automatic trap team event.

Even in the pool, though, Jersey had a less golden Games than many in recent times. With Simon Militis now concentrating on becoming a bigger fish in bigger ponds, younger brother Alexis took the only gold out of all the men’s events, in the 1,500m freestyle. There wasn’t the multi-winning individuals feats of the past in the women’s races either. Natalie Bree picked up two golds, the 200m and 400m individual medley, setting new Games records along the way. Susan Le Couillard won a gold for the third successive Games in the 200m freestyle, while Emma Hirst won the 50m butterfly, as well as 4x50m freestyle relay.

The other sport that Jersey had traditionally done well at was badminton. With Elizabeth Cann also venturing on bigger stages, it left the way for the bridesmaid to become the bride as Danielle Le Feuvre won the women’s singles. She also successfully defended the women’s doubles with new partner Kerry Duffin, but had to settle for silver in the mixed doubles with Kerry’s brother, Phil.

In golf, Lynne Cummins eased to gold in the women’s scratch (winning by an unchallenged 17 strokes), veteran runner Barbara Park won two golds in the half-marathon, both individually and part of the team that also included Sue Le Ruez and May Rea.

Elsewhere, big names of the present and the future continued to strut their stuff, especially those from the Isle of Wight. Carl Prean defended his men’s table tennis title while athlete Kelly Sotherton was back too, winning gold in the 100m and the long jump but settling for silver in 200m – beaten by Olympian and future World Championships bronze medallist Cydonie Mothersill, of Cayman.

It would be the last Games held in Scandinavian territory for ten years but it was one that left a deep impression. The JEP opined that the ‘spirit of the “Friendly Games’’ … pervaded all that happened in Gotland,’ though the footballers of newcomers Rhodes might not have got the memo, having had two players sent off in their Group 4 match against Guernsey. They should have had two more off after what the Guernsey Press described as ‘two typically pre-meditated, thuggish challenges went unpunished,’ adding that ‘the kicking, spitting, stamping Greeks disgraced themselves.’

The JEP, though, was happy to sing the praises of the Gutnish population for their role in the success of the Games: ‘It seems that the island’s inhabitants, who trace their ancestry to the Viking era, were wonderful hosts.’

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