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Edinburgh 1970 – ‘The Games of Firsts’

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The IX Commonwealth Games at Edinburgh will be remembered for a number of firsts.

The 1970 Games would be the first time Scotland would host the Commonwealth Games. A lobbying group called the British Empire Games Council for Scotland began drawing plans for Scotland to host the Games in 1936, but it was not until 1956, when the Scottish Government gave serious effort to the host bid. After missing out on hosting the 1966 Games which were awarded to Kingston, Jamaica, the Scottish bid defeated New Zealand’s to be awarded to host the 1970 Games.

Edinburgh was chosen as the host city, and it would the first time the Games would be no longer be known as the British Empire and Commonwealth Games, but now known as the British Commonwealth Games.

The Games also was the first time a unique Games trademark logo was used, now a tradition for every subsequent Commonwealth Games.

Edinburgh’s emblem showed the then Commonwealth Games emblem intertwined with a St. Andrews Cross and a thistle.

Forty-two nations sent a total of nearly 1,750 athletes and officials to Scotland for the Games to compete for 121 gold medals in 10 sports – athletics, badminton, boxing, cycling, diving, fencing, lawn bowls, swimming, weightlifting and wrestling. The Games saw three nations win medals for the first time, including Tanzania, Malawi and St. Vincent.

Australia was represented by 107 competitors, the second biggest contingent for an overseas Games, trailing only the 1950 Auckland team where Australia sent 148 athletes.

Leading the team out during the opening ceremony as flagbearer was champion hurdler Pam Kilborn.

This marked the first time a female athlete was the flagbearer for Australia at either the Olympics or Commonwealth Games.

The 1970 Commonwealth Games opened on July 16 at the newly built Meadowbank Stadium, a stadium designed to accommodate the athletics, fencing, wrestling competitions, and had its own dedicated velodrome. Meadowbank Stadium was built at a grand cost of £2.8 million, which equates to £43.6 million in 2019 dollars, but the stadium enjoyed a second life when it was used again for the Edinburgh 1986 Commonwealth Games.

Opening ceremony at the newly constructed Meadowbank Stadium

The Games opened by Prince Phillip reading the Queen’s message upon receiving the Queen’s Baton, but the Games would become the first time HM Queen Elizabeth II attended in her capacity as Head of the Commonwealth, even presenting medals to champion athletes, including Kenyan running star Kipchoge Keino.

HM Queen Elizabeth II at the closing ceremony

Edinburgh’s Games also ushered the Commonwealth Games into the modern age becoming the first time metric measurements were used, no longer were events contested in yards and miles or stones and pounds, but now lengths were in metres and weights were in kilograms.

But arguably the biggest change came in the first time use of new technology at the Commonwealth Games.

While social media technology TikTok is on track to make its debut at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games, the 1970 Games were the first Games to be broadcasted in colour to the United Kingdom, it was also the first time electronic photo finish was used at the games.

Dubbed the “Friendly Games”, the Edinburgh 1970 British Commonwealth Games would be a resounding success over the nine days of competition.

Electronic photo finish was used for the first time

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