More than 20 years after the pinnacle of her career, Donna Fraser has that feeling again. The excitement an athlete feels when they are about to compete at a major championships is one the Croydon Harrier finds is replicated.
The athlete who was fourth in the 400m at the 2000 Olympics is Head of Inclusion and Engagement at Birmingham 2022 and, as the Games begin, is set for an exciting time.
“The only way I can describe it is I actually do feel like an athlete again,” Fraser, who won 400m and 4x400m with England in the 1998 Commonwealths in Kuala Lumpur, told us earlier this month. “You know you’ve got your end date, what you need to do in order to deliver on that day."
"The nerves are definitely starting. It’s going to be amazing and just to see everything coming together behind the scenes is just so interesting.”
Fraser’s role is the first of its kind for the “Friendly Games” as the local organising committee capitalises on Birmingham’s culturally diverse nature. Organisers aim to encourage engagement and physical activity in sports among underrepresented groups and ensure the Games are accessible to everyone.
She explained their aim is firstly “to embed equality and inclusion into everything we do.” She added: "We will be an inclusive and accessible games. This role has never existed before.
"The other part is looking after community engagement. Our aim is to bring the community with us on this journey with the games. There are so many opportunities for them to get involved. If they haven’t got a ticket, they can see some free events as well. Birmingham is hugely diverse and the Games will give Birmingham the opportunity to showcase that diversity.”
Such is the more relaxed feeling of the Commonwealth Games, she feels first-time competitors need to make the most of the experience. She said:
“The advice I would give to them is just enjoy it. With a home games, there is even more pressure to perform well. It’s getting that balance of enjoyment but doing the best you can do. Pressure can often have an adverse effect and you don’t want that. So absolutely enjoy it, embrace it but know that you’ve been selected to represent the country and give it your all.”
Fraser, who also won a European junior gold medal and a host of international relay golds, looks back fondly on her own experience of the Commonwealth Games. She said: “We call it the Friendly Games and my first one was 1994 in Canada and it was just that. I felt the family in that team and everyone coming together.
"I always saw it as a stepping stone to the Olympics. It may not have all the kudos because it’s not everyone in the world but it is a great opportunity to excel and then move forward to the Olympics. I don’t think it should be undermined. I would definitely want to be Commonwealth Games champion; I’d take that for sure."
"I do believe that Birmingham will set a bar. There are a number of firsts that we’ve put in place, so I think it will definitely be remembered.”
Fraser, whose career high came in the “Cathy Freeman” 400m final in Sydney in front of 112,000 spectators, believes English athletes should not under-estimate the advantage of a home crowd: “A packed out stadium, you cannot beat it,” she said.
“I look at the crowd in Sydney, I don’t remember hearing it – it’s only when I see it on TV, I think ‘gosh that was loud.’ That lift that you get walking out into the stadium. I got that at the national championships: ‘Okay, I’m not just doing it for me I’m doing it for that Joe Bloggs over there on the back straight.’ It gives you that lift so you don’t feel alone.”
Watch our interview with Donna Fraser OBE
- Visit our Journey to 2022 page for more information about the Commonwealth Games
- Featured image: Donna Fraser competing at Bedford in 2007. Photo by Mark Shaerman.