Philip Barker ©insidethegames

Great cycling rivals Anna Meares and Victoria Pendleton will meet again as the countdown to the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games begins in earnest at Buckingham Palace tomorrow.

They will be the first bearers of a Baton containing The Queen's message to Commonwealth Games athletes. 

The pair met in memorable contests at both the Olympic and Commonwealth Games. At the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, Meares beat Pendleton in the time trial while Pendleton prevailed in the sprint.

Australia's five time Paralympian Kurt Fearnley will begin the ceremony. The wheelchair racer won the T54 1,500 metres gold at Delhi 2010. He will make his way up The Mall accompanied by the band of the Scots Guards. The Baton he will carry has been fashioned from Macadamia wood, stainless steel and recycled plastic. It is shaped in a distinctive loop.

Two elders of the Yugambeh people will be presented to The Queen in tribute to the spirit of reconciliation with Aboriginal people in Australia. The Sydney 2000 Olympic Torch famously began its journey around Australia at Uluru.

The Baton Relay will be the longest to be staged. It will cover 230,000 kilometres in 288 days before arriving on Australian soil.

The scale of the enterprise is in stark contrast to the the first Relay containing a goodwill message from the The Queen almost 60 years ago. Even the presentation of the Baton was far more low key, taking place away from public view inside the Palace. The Queen was unwell so Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, placed her message inside the Baton and handed it to the first runner, Roger Bannister, a gold medallist in the mile at the 1954 Games in Vancouver.

It seems most likely that the idea was inspired by the late Bernard Baldwin, a Welsh athletics official who launched the famous Nos Galan race in 1958. Two years earlier, he had organised a Lawr y Cwm (from mountain to valley) relay which had carried greetings from the Mayor of Mountain Ash to his counterpart in Pontypridd. 

Anna Meares, left, and Victoria Pendleton will resume acquaintances at the launch of the Baton Relay ©Getty Images
Anna Meares, left, and Victoria Pendleton will resume acquaintances at the launch of the Baton Relay ©Getty Images

Baldwin wanted a similar event as a finale to the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff. Veteran marathoner Sam Ferris was supportive. "It could be an attractive feature and would allow guests to take back happy memories of true Welsh hospitality," he said. But instead of a grand finale, the Relay formed a memorable opening.

Less than a week after its dispatch from London, the Baton arrived in Cardiff for the opening of the 1958 Games. Legendary Welsh athlete and rugby player Ken Jones was the final runner. Prince Philip read a message which spoke of "welcome proof which is being placed on physical strength and skill as an essential factor in the development of the whole man. Healthy in mind and in body".

Sadly The Queen was too unwell to attend in person.

There was also great disappointment four years later when it was announced that she would not travel to Perth for the 1962 Games.

Instead it was Prince Philip who again opened the Games and read the Royal message.

"I am sure that no quarter will be asked or given, I am equally sure however that the personal friendships to be made in Perth during the next two weeks, will serve to strengthen and sustain the links which bind our family of nations together," he said.

Among the competitors was a teenage Scottish swimmer, Louise Martin, who is now President of the Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF).

There was a Baton Relay in 1962 but it took a slightly different form. A group of 20 Adelaide Harriers transported a Baton containing goodwill messages from Charles Glover, Lord Mayor of Adelaide, and Melbourne counterpart Maurice Nathan. It was an ambitious feat. Runners ranged in age from 16 to 62 and covered some 1,112 miles along the Eyre Highway in nine days, supported by wives and girlfriends who did the cooking.

Twenty-four-year-old club captain Phil Afford presented the message to Perth Lord Mayor Sir Harry Howard, who told the group they had shown "tenacity, courage and persistence." It was also the club’s 50th anniversary and they were treated as honoured guests for the duration of the Games.

It would be 20 years before the Games returned to Australia. In 1982 they were staged in Brisbane, not so very far from Gold Coast. At the request of the Brisbane Commonwealth Games Foundation, 72-year-old Decima Hamilton was asked to act as custodian for the Baton, fashioned from Australian wattle, silver and gemstones.

This provided a link with the first Games to be held in Australia. Hamilton, as Decima Norman, won no fewer than five athletics gold medals at the 1938 Empire Games in Sydney and impressed many seasoned watchers. 

"This girl can really run, having perfect natural leg action and more than anything else, determination to hit the tape first whatever happens," said Australian rules footballer and professional sprinter Austin Robertson.

Australian model Elle Macpherson talks to Prince Phillip at the Melbourne 2006 Baton Relay launch  ©Getty Images
Australian model Elle Macpherson talks to Prince Phillip at the Melbourne 2006 Baton Relay launch ©Getty Images

Not for nothing was she dubbed "Dashing Dess" for after English distance runner Brendan Foster had started the Relay, she was also to take care of the Baton on its way back to Australia. 

When it landed at her hometown of Perth, it travelled across Australia before it arrived at the QE2 Stadium in Brisbane in the hands of another great Australian sprinter, Raelene Boyle.

In 2006, 50 years after their Olympics, the Commonwealth Games came to Melbourne.

Their Relay lasted a year and a day, the longest yet staged. The message, contained on a microchip, was placed into a Baton which contained two television cameras and a Global Positioning Satellite tracking device. There were lights representing each Commonwealth nation and territory.

The first bearer has traditionally been a sports star but this time, organisers chose supermodel and fashion designer Elle Macpherson who described the Queen's pink outfit as "delicious". Macpherson was equally resplendent in a white tracksuit with lime green flashes. Her Majesty's opinion of this was not recorded.

Macpherson ran through the Buckingham Palace Gates with an escort of young people wearing the colours of the Commonwealth nations. She handed on to Cathy Freeman, who had launched her international running career with gold at the 1994 Commonwealth Games and had memorably unveiled the Aboriginal flag in celebration. The journey would ultimately last 110,000 kilometres and even included one marriage proposal.

As a grand finale, there was a spectacular passage up the Yarra River carried by captains of Australian rules football teams. Ron Barassi, a legendary player with Melbourne and Carlton and a coach with North Melbourne, climbed the Swan Street Bridge. It was illuminated in the darkness to be met by the great athletics champion Herb Elliott, who won gold in the Empire Games mile and Olympic 1,500m.

Inside the Stadium Freeman, clad all in white this time, carried the Baton for a second time. She was joined by Marjorie Jackson-Nelson.

Known as the "Lithgow Fash", she was unbeatable in the early 1950s and did the sprint double at two Commonwealth Games either side of the same feat at the Olympics. 

Ron Clarke, who won silver but never gold at the Commonwealth Games, also helped escort the final runner to his appointment with The Queen. John Landy, Governor of Victoria, has a unique place in Commonwealth Games history after his epic tussle with Bannister in 1954. This race became known as "the Miracle Mile".

For the first time at a Games in Australia, The Queen herself performed the opening. On such occasions, her message is officially known as an "address". The Queen has personally started every Baton Relay since 1966 and has only missed one Games since, though the Palace has yet to announce who will open the Games in 2018.

Four years ago, Sir Chris Hoy wore a traditional Scottish kilt as he delivered Glasgow 2014's Baton. He was met by The Queen and CGF President Prince Tunku Imran of Malaysia. 

Sir Chris Hoy and Prince Imran struggled to retrieve the message from the Baton at Glasgow 2014  ©Getty Images
Sir Chris Hoy and Prince Imran struggled to retrieve the message from the Baton at Glasgow 2014 ©Getty Images

Allan Wells, a gold medal winning sprinter in both 1978 and 1982, stepped forward to carry the Baton on the first leg of its journey, accompanied by Monica Dzonzi from Malawi, a youth ambassador for the United Nations' Children’s Charity UNICEF. Millions was raised in an initiative at the Games themselves.

Once again the Baton journeyed to every part of the Commonwealth including Malawi where Dzonzi was on hand to renew her acquaintance with it.

"In Malawi everyone was quite surprised," she said. "I explained that I am the UNICEF ambassador for Malawi and work on behalf of other young people. It was quite touching for them and they were inspired, some of them are able to go back into education and continue with their school work."

When the Relay finally came to an end, there was a pleasing symmetry. It was Hoy who appeared at Celtic Park as the final Bearer and he presented it to Prince Imran to hand to The Queen in the Royal Box. 

To the amusement of Her Majesty, both men had considerable difficulty in retrieving the message. "I sustained some collateral damage," joked Prince Imran afterwards as he revealed he had hidden a bloody hand as he greeted The Queen.

Current CGF President Martin will be careful to avoid any mishap at Buckingham Palace. She will be under the gaze of two past CGF Presidents in Prince Philip and the Earl of Wessex, now a Patron.

The Baton has had its share of misadventures. In 1958, runners John Seymour and Tony Redrup from Wycombe Phoenix Athletics Club were both due to carry it on the outskirts of London but missed their slot.

"It was a shocking mix up," said Seymour. "I’d somehow got the wrong date from correspondence and it was not until I saw the papers that I realised my mistake."

In 1974, the Baton itself went missing, apparently stolen from the New Zealand High Commission, and was only found in the nick of time. 

It is perhaps just as well that they keep a duplicate for any emergencies.