1938 - Sydney

The British Empire Games go “Down Under” for the first time

The British Empire Games reached their third continent as they took place in Sydney 150 years after the foundation of British settlement which marked the point where Europeans started living in Australia.

A week before the start of the Games on January 26, huge crowds lined the streets of Sydney on to see the Commonwealth athletes and the 150th anniversary parade. 

When the Games began on February 5, over 40,000 crammed into the impressive Sydney Cricket Ground to see a spectacular opening ceremony. The patriotic crowds were keen to see Australia and New Zealand excel, particularly against old rivals England.

The Games went very well for the host nation and it was an Australian track and field athlete called Decima Norman who was their undoubted star. Born on September 9, 1909, in Tammin in Western Australia, Norman became Australia’s first female athletic heroine.

She destroyed all her rivals on her way to winning an astonishing five gold medals. They were in the 100 yards, 200y, long jump, 440y medley relay and 660y medley relay. 

In 1982, Norman was awarded the Member of the Order of the British Empire for her services in sports a year before her death in August 1983 as a result of cancer.

Fifteen nations competed at the 1938 Games and new participants included Fiji and Ceylon. 

The Games Village, a place for athletes to stay during the Games, was located at the old Sydney Showground and perhaps the most remarkable journey to get to the Village for the start of the Games was made by the four British nations. 

England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland took four months to travel to the Empire Games – three months of which were spent on a boat. Twice a week, they would stop at a port to allow training.

The training though, did not pay off and much to the delight of the home crowds; a triumphant Australia knocked rivals England in to second place in the medal table for the first time in the history of the British Empire Games. 

Date Games held: February 5-12

Number of nations represented: 15

Number of competitors: 464

Number of medals awarded: 213

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