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Logo for NatWest Island Games IX - Isle of Man 2001

NatWest Island Games IX - Isle of Man 2001

7th - 13th July 2001


The NatWest Island Games of 2001 was significant for a number of reasons. They were not only the first games of the new millennium but heralded a return to the Isle of Man, which many people see as their spiritual home. The Island also claimed the distinction of being the first to host the event for a second time.

The Island Games was conceived in the Isle of Man as the highlight of its Year of Sport in 1985, a total of 15 teams arriving by sea and air to take part in the inaugural gathering. A large number of competitors and officials who were involved at that time were still playing an active role in 2001 but they were to find a vast change in the sports facilities on offer.

Much had happened in the Isle of Man in the intervening 16 years. The grass track, which staged many of the athletics events, had served its purpose but had been replaced by a 400 metre all-weather facility housed in the new National Sports Centre. This development also incorporated a 7,000 square metre synthetic grass multi-sports area and cycle track.

A short distance away was the eight lanes, 25 metre indoor swimming pool with electronic timing – not to mention the main, and secondary, halls with which were ideal for sports such as basketball, badminton and table tennis. Speaking at the opening ceremony the then Chairman of the International Island Games, Alan Cross from Jersey, said that on returning to the scene of the original Games it was difficult to appreciate the pace of development, which had taken place.

Preparations for the 2001 NatWest Island Games had been underway since 1997. “Over four years in the planning and yet the seven days of competition seemed to pass in the blink of an eye,” recalls Games Director Mike Ball.

“By the time the official opening arrived on Saturday 7th July we had assembled a team of over 2000 volunteers and were supremely confident we were equal to the enormous task of bringing the Games home. The challenge was to match the professionalism of the Jersey and Gotland Games which had preceded us, while rekindling the spirit of the inaugural event.”

The weather forecast for the opening ceremony at the National Sports Centre in Douglas had been grim, with heavy rain predicted. However, although the roads were wet in many parts of the Island, the capital itself stayed dry and a crowd estimated at around 6,000 saw the Earl of Wessex – accompanied by the Countess – officially declare the Games open at 9.42 pm.

A young Manx girl footballer – Hayley Cowin – provided the newspapers with their first headlines of the week when she stole a kiss from Prince Edward while he was meeting some of the Manx competitors prior to the opening ceremony. Hayley renewed her acquaintance with the Prince the following day when he was introduced to the teams prior to the Isle of Man’s match with the Faroe Islands. However, on this occasion she settled for the more traditional handshake.

The opening ceremony had featured a march past by the 2,554 participants, the teams ranging in size from the Isle of Man (256 competitors) and Jersey (239) down to the Norwegian Island of Froya with just two cyclists.

The 22 competing nations had brought with them water from the seas off their own islands to continue the feature introduced during the Aland Games of 1991. The 25 ft high water feature had been designed by a student from the Isle of Man College.

The Games were blessed by Bishop Noel Jones with the International Island Games Oath being sworn in English by Isle of Man tennis player Jane Miller and in Manx by swimmer Gerry Manley. Earlier, the capacity crowd had been entertained by clowns, jugglers and acrobats and had also witnessed displays of Manx cultural activities. It all concluded with a fireworks display to music and just as the teams were making their way to the coaches the rain came down in torrents – but too late to spoil the enjoyment.
Welcoming the royal guests, competitors, officials and spectators, the chairman of the organising committee, the Venerable Brian Partington, had remarked that it was a privilege to be hosting the first Games of the new millennium. He added: “May friendship develop throughout the competition and make it a truly memorable week.”

There was certainly a memorable start for the host nation, which won five gold medals on the opening day. Colin Moore and former Olympic Games cyclist Marie Noon took the honours in the men’s and women’s half marathon while the trio of Moore, Tony Okell and Chris Quine triumphed in the team event. Manx high jumper Martin Aram not only struck gold but established a new Games record of 2.10 metres. Chris Quine’s feat in winning a team gold maintained his remarkable record of having won a medal at every gathering since the inception of the Games in 1985.

While the Isle of Man could justifiably claim to be top dog in the half marathon discipline Jersey proved itself the expert in another distance event which was making its first appearance in the Games – the triathlon. Paul Clements and Melissa Messervy led the fields home while the Channel Island occupied the first two places in the men’s event and took all three medals in the women’s. Prince Edward had acted as official starter for the triathlon, setting the 62 competitors on their way at the beginning of the swimming phase.

There were exceptional performances in all fifteen sports.

The Games had been remarkable for the number of spectators who came to watch and cheer on the competitors, whatever Island they represented. Overall, Games Director Mike Ball said the most significant innovations had been the way in which the event was presented to the public.

He said: “The introduction of an internet-based instant results service, and the Games radio station, had a fundamental impact on the success. Wherever you were you knew exactly what was happening and the whole Island got into the Games spirit.

“The NatWest Island Games 2001 represented the biggest gathering of sports people in Europe that year. Amidst the sheer scale of the event was an enduring spirit of friendship founded on the common feeling of what it is like to be an islander. The friendships made during the Games have lasted the test of time.”

The Annual General Meeting, held on the Tuesday of Games Week saw the 2005 Games awarded to Shetland and more discussion on the Future of the Games. Bo Frykenstam of Gotland was elected Chairman of the Executive Committee in succession to Alan Cross (Jersey), who had served for six years. Another great servant Owen Le Vallee (Guernsey) also stood down as Treasurer and was replaced by Eric Legg (Guernsey), whilst Brian Partington (Isle of Man) became Vice Chairman and Jaan Lember (Saaremaa) replaced Jill Gillings (Isle of Man) on the Committee.

Colin Brown