Athletes to watch at the Commonwealth Games
GOLD COAST, Australia (AP) — More than 6,600 athletes and officials will converge on the Gold Coast for the 21st edition of the Commonwealth Games, the multi-sports event for 71 countries and territories of the British Commonwealth held every four years.
There will be 275 events across 19 sports at venues mostly on the Queensland state’s coastal tourist strip, ranging from track and field and swimming to beach volleyball, which will make its debut at the games.
Here are some women to watch at the April 4-15 games:
Track and Field
Thompson became one of the biggest stars of the 2016 Olympics, winning the 100-200-meter double within five days at Rio and collecting a silver as part of the Jamaican women’s 4x100-meter relay team. She had a strong season in 2017 but finished out of the medals at the world championships in London, placing fifth in the 100 in an expected setback. She’s determined to make the Commonwealth Games, her major event of the season, a success.
“Reflecting back on 2017, a year when I lost only one of my nine 100-meter finals and produced the two fastest times of the year, losing the world championships was just a big motivation for me,” she said. “And that gives me a big boost to work even harder for 2018.”
Thompson said at a pre-Games meet in Brisbane that she will only race the 200 at the Commonwealth Games.
Track and Field
Her desperate, diving lunge across the finish line to edge American Allyson Felix for Olympic gold in the 400 in 2016 at Rio de Janeiro launched Miler-Uibo to international fame. She says she still gets emotional every time she thinks about that day in Rio, “when everything fell into place.”
After finishing third in the 200 and fourth at the world championships in London last year, Miller-Uibo got things back on track by winning the 200-400 double at the Diamond League finals. She made her debut at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow four years ago, placing sixth in the 400. Miller-Uibo, who will celebrate her 24th birthday on the final day of the games on April 15, is expected to be one of the stars of the track and field program.
Track and Field
The world and Olympic 800-meter champion will carry South Africa’s flag into the opening ceremony, then concentrate on winning a double on the track.
Semenya has had a career resurgence over the last two seasons and wants to go better than taking medals in the 800 and the 1,500, as she did at the world championships in London last year with gold in the two-lap race and bronze in the longer event.
“We lead by example — two golds for me,” she said at an official ceremony before leaving for Australia.
Track and Field
When they say Pearson has home-ground advantage, they aren’t just talking about the Australian-friendly crowds. The 31-year-old Pearson attended Helensvale State High School, about a 15-minute drive north along the motorway from where the track and field events will take place at Carrara Stadium.
Pearson’s third consecutive 100-meter hurdles gold in the Commonwealth Games would add to her 2012 Olympic gold and 2011 and 2017 world titles. She will also take part in the 4x100-meter relay.
Pearson says she has an Achilles injury leading into the games.
“I’m probably 90 percent there,” she said. “It’s going to be an issue all the way through.”
Pearson made her Commonwealth Games debut in 2006 as a teenager. A horrendous fall in the 2015 Rome Diamond League event, where she broke her left wrist, forced her out of the world championships and subsequent hamstring problems forced her to miss the 2016 Rio Olympics. Pearson hasn’t said whether she will stay in the sport until the world championships next year, or the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
Track and Field
As the world’s pre-eminent women’s shot put thrower for a decade, Adams would seem to have little to prove on the Gold Coast. She won Olympic gold medals at Beijing in 2008 and London in 2012, the latter after the suspension of her arch-rival Nadzeya Ostapchuk of Belarus for doping. Adams won world championships in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013 and Commonwealth Games titles in 2006, 2010 and 2014. But if there are doubts about Adams’ ability to defend her Commonwealth title, it’s for one reason — motherhood. Adams has been out of competition for 19 months after giving birth to her first child, a daughter.
Track and Field
Competing in her first Commonwealth Games, Johnson-Thompson is the heir to Jessica Ennis-Hill as Britain’s leading heptathlete and one of the most high-profile names in the England squad.
Johnson-Thompson finally got her hands on an global gold medal by winning the pentathlon at the recent world indoors in Birmingham, atoning for falling short in the heptathlon at the 2016 Olympics and the world championship in 2017.
She is aiming to sweep the major events in 2018 — a year when there is no Olympics or worlds. If she wins Commonwealth gold, she will bid to complete a calendar-year hat trick when she heads to Berlin for the European Championship in August.
In a country where cricketers dominate the sporting attention, Nehwal carries the flag high in badminton. Nehwal became the first Indian woman to win a gold at the 2010 Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. At the age of 27, she is confident of standing on the victory podium again.
Nehwal grew up with the sport, as both her parents had represented their state of Haryana at the national level. She rose on the Indian badminton scene as early as in 2006 when she won the national under-19 championship and in the same year she won Philippines Open before finishing runner-up at the BWF World Junior Championships. She won the world junior title two years later.
After recovering from right knee surgery last year, she won the Malaysia Masters and also claimed bronze medal at the World Badminton Championships at Glasgow, making her one of the favorites for gold on the Gold Coast.
The 11-year-old Hursey could be one of the stories of the games. She is believed to be the youngest person to represent Wales at any sport at senior level, or to compete at a Commonwealth Games. She will be 11 years and 286 days on the day of the opening ceremony on April 4. Hursey took up the sport at the age of 5 when she lived in China. She moved to the Welsh capital Cardiff when she was age 6, when she also won her first national championship at under 11.
Not surprisingly, she often has to miss school to compete.
With four victories on the second stop of the Pro Swim Series, Ruck is one of Canada’s top swimmers headed to the Gold Coast.
The 17-year-old from Kelowna, British Columbia, won the women’s 100-meter backstroke, the 200 freestyle, the 200 backstroke and the 100 freestyle at the March 1-4 event in Atlanta.
A double medalist at the Rio Olympics, Ruck won the gold medal in the 100 meter freestyle at the 2015 world junior championships in Singapore, breaking the meet record in the heats and the final. She won bronze medals in Rio as a member of Canada’s 4x100- and 4x200-meter freestyle relay teams.
The Dallas Wings’ new recruit will tune up for her WNBA season when she leads the Australian team in defense of a 12-year-old title. Australia won the men’s and women’s competition in Melbourne in 2006, the only time basketball has featured at the Commonwealth Games, and Liz Cambage’s leadership will go a long way to determine if the women’s side can win gold again.
The 2.03-meter (6-foot-8) center, a two-time Olympian for Australia, became the first woman to dunk in an Olympic game in 2012. And now she’ll have a chance to add the Commonwealth Games to that list.
“It’s a very full-on year ... but it’s very exciting,” Cambage said. “I’ve never played a WNBA season in a major international competition year.”
The eight-time world champion is aiming for a third consecutive Commonwealth Games gold medal, and so arrived early on the Gold Coast to get a feel for the courts at the Oxenford Studios where competition will be staged.
David has an Australian coach from nearby Brisbane, so should be feeling close to home. As the No. 3 seed, the 34-year-old David gets a first-round bye when the tournament starts April 5. She made her Commonwealth Games debut at the age of 14 when Malaysia hosted the event in 1998.
The winner of a gold medal at Glasgow in 2014, she is the cousin of renowned Indian wrestler Geeta Phogat. The 23-year-old was India’s best bet at the Rio Olympics before she was carried off on a stretcher in the quarterfinals and her dreams of Olympic medal was shattered.
Phogat had a strong 2014 Commonwealth Games where she represented India in the 48-kilogram category. She defeated Rosemary Nweke in the quarterfinals, Jasmine Mian in the semis and Yana Rattigan 3-1 to clinch the gold.
Star Australian netball defender Laura Geitz is making her comeback at the Commonwealth Games despite not playing an international game since 2015. Retirement was a big consideration for the former Diamonds captain after having her son, Barney, in February 2017.
She joins a number of professional athletes, including Serena Williams, who have chosen to come back to their sport after becoming a mother. Not that it was an easy choice.
“If I said I had in my head that I was definitely coming back to play, that would be a lie,” Geitz said. “I remember mornings I would wake up and going ‘how would I even be able to contemplate playing if I’m feeling like I can’t even make a cup of tea.’
“But as the time went on, I felt like I was getting the hang of motherhood ... part of me was not completely exhausted of my sport.”
The Australian women’s team is aiming to add the Commonwealth Games title to its Olympic gold, both when their sports were introduced for the first to their respective games. While men’s Olympic sevens also began at Rio 2016, the men have been playing at the Commonwealth Games since 1998 in Kuala Lumpur.
Eight members of Australia’s women’s Olympic team were selected for the Commonwealth Games side, with Shannon Parry and Sharni Williams to share captaincy duties.
Australia coach Tim Walsh, who will be making his final appearance as women’s coach before taking over the Australian men’s program, said it will be a privilege to play before partisan fans at Robina Stadium.
“We’re a really process-driven team, so we know that we’ve prepared well and we’re ready to walk off the field after the last game without any regret,” Walsh said.
AP Sports Writers Dennis Passa, Steve Douglas, Rizwan Ali, Steve McMorran and Jim Armstrong contributed.