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Commonwealth Games will again spark Olympic fire on Liberty Mountain

An athlete competes in the long jump during last summer’s Commonwealth Games. (Photo by Ross Kohl)

On the same day that the 2020-21 Summer Games get under way in Tokyo — next Friday, July 23 — the spirit of the Olympics will be on full display on Liberty University’s campus as host of the 32nd annual Virginia Commonwealth Games, the largest multi-sport festival for amateur athletics in Virginia every year produced by Virginia Amateur Sports (VAS).

“In an Olympic year, we are thrilled to have the spirit of the Commonwealth Games alive and well once again at Liberty University, and we are excited to welcome the athletes and their families to campus,” Liberty President Jerry Prevo said. “Liberty has enjoyed the partnership with Virginia Amateur Sports over the past five summers and we look forward to continuing to encourage these athletes of all ages as they pursue their dreams.”

During a press conference on Wednesday at the Hancock Welcome Center, VAS President Dan Foutz announced that this year’s Olympic speaker will be two-time Olympic gold medalist Francena McCorory, who for the second year in a row will light the cauldron at the Opening Ceremonies, set for 8 p.m. in Williams Stadium, followed by a fireworks show at 8:30 p.m.

A former Commonwealth Games track and field competitor in 1991 in Roanoke, McCorory went on to compete at Hampton University, setting the NCAA record as a two-time defending 400-meter outdoor national champion. She struck gold at both the 2012 Olympic Games in London and the 2016 Games in Rio, Brazil, as a member of the United States’ winning 4×400-meter relay team. Last summer, she qualified for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo in the 400 dash, but missed making the cut at last month’s trials in Eugene, Ore., by one-tenth of a second.

Virginia Amateur Sports President Dan Foutz

“One thing she was unable to do last year was to actually talk to the athletes and fans,” Foutz said. “This year she gets to do that. We’re now calling Francena the Virginia Commonwealth Games’ Golden Girl. She’s coming back yet again this year and it’s a testament to a Virginian who wanted to come back and inspire these youngsters.”

Liberty alumna Tatum Sheppard (’20), who was crowned as Miss Virginia in June, will also make an appearance at the Opening Ceremonies, when first responders from the City of Lynchburg police and fire departments as well as front-line workers from Centra Health will be honored.

Before the Opening Ceremonies, which will again be emceed by former WSET (ABC-13) sports anchor Dennis Carter and streamed live on that station’s website, a Tailgate Party will return to the Liberty Indoor Football Practice Facility from 5:30-7:45 p.m. Friday, with plenty of games, activities, food (free to registered athletes and coaches) and more. A parade of athletes will then lead from the Tailgate Party to the Opening Ceremonies. Both Friday events are free to the public and open to the community.

“This has been a very exciting year for Liberty Athletics and it continues on this summer as we get ready to host a fully opened set of games,” Liberty Director of Athletics Ian McCaw said. “Liberty has a beautiful campus, tremendous athletic facilities, some of the very best in the country, so we are looking forward to turning those over to our athletes and … welcoming families and guests and sports fans from all around the Commonwealth.”

Two-time Olympic gold medal winner Francena McCorory (right) carries the torch that lit the cauldron at last summer’s Commonwealth Games Opening Ceremonies in Williams Stadium. (Photo by Ross Kohl)

Of the 36 events featured in this summer’s Games, ranging from archery to wrestling, 17 will be contested over Main Events Weekend, from July 23-25. Six others will be held this coming weekend: All-Star Baseball (Friday through Sunday at Liberty Baseball Stadium), Racquetball (Thursday through Sunday) and Pickleball (Friday through Sunday at the LaHaye Recreation & Fitness Center’s basketball courts), All-Star Softball (Saturday and Sunday at the Liberty Softball Stadium), Adult Slow-Pitch Softball (Saturday and Sunday at Peaks View Park), and Rugby (Saturday at Peaks View Park). Both the baseball and softball tournaments are being streamed live on the Commonwealth Games website.

Besides All-Star Softball, Team Volleyball, and Outdoor Soccer are new additions to the Commonwealth Games this year.

At least 99 basketball teams have registered for that tournament set for Main Games Weekend, making it the most popular sport once more, with the championship games to be played in the spectacular new Liberty Arena.

Commonwealth Games Director Amanda Mangum

“My favorite part of these games is getting our athletes to be able to experience these facilities,” Games Director Amanda Mangum said. “I really want to sincerely thank the City of Lynchburg and Liberty University for giving our athletes that opportunity. For some, it really is life-changing,”

Other Liberty facilities put to good use over the next few weeks include the Liberty Mountain Gun Club for Air Rifle, BB Gun, and Rimfire shooting events on July 24, the Cook Tennis Complex for Adult and Youth events on July 24-25, the 20-cage East Campus and Hydaway Outdoor Center Disc Golf courses on July 24, the Liberty Mountain Intramural Complex for Ultimate Frisbee on July 24-25, and Outdoor Track & Field events at the Mathes-Hopkins Track Complex as well as equestrian events at the Liberty Equestrian Center on July 31 and indoor soccer at the Thomas Indoor Soccer Complex from Aug. 6-8. The Ski and Snowboard competition took place Tuesday at the Liberty Mountain Snowflex Centre as well as Youth Swimming (June 25-27 at the Liberty Natatorium) and Indoor Track & Field is set for Dec. 18-19 at the Liberty Indoor Track Complex.

A complete list of events and dates with registration links is available on the Commonwealth Games website. Volunteers, coordinated by former VAS President Pete Lampman, are needed in a variety of events.

“We’re ready to turn it on and turn it up and get the Commonwealth Games back up to full speed, full capacity and participation,” Foutz said.

A spectacular fireworks show lit up Williams Stadium last summer, and will again on Friday, July 23, starting at 8:30 p.m. (Photo by Andrew Snyder)
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