A number of English athletes put years of disappointment and heartache behind them, as they claimed surprise medals at the Commonwealth Games in Australia in Netball, Powerlifting and Squash.However for a number of champions from The World Games, things did not work out as planned.
There surely cannot be a more aptly named city to host a multi-sport event than the Gold Coast. Yet legendary athletes such as Nicol David, Nick Matthew, Fiji Rugby and the Australia Diamonds were foiled in their attempts to come away from the glitzy Queensland city bearing a chain adorned with the most precious of metals.
Double joy for New Zealand
In the Rugby 7s final, Australia conceded two early tries before twice crossing the try-line themselves; however a missed conversion took the game into extra time. New Zealand's Kelly Brazier sprinted 75 m for a solo score that sealed the gold medal for the ladies in black. In the men’s final a few minutes later, it was double joy for New Zealand as they proved too strong for Fiji, the Rio Olympics golden boys and triple champions of The World Games.
As most of the best athletes in Rhythmic Gymnastics represent nations in Eastern Europe, they were ineligible to compete in Australia. Their absence meant that the competitions were of average quality, with winning scores in the disciplines being three or more points below what were awarded to the Averina twins in Wroclaw. Diamanto Evripidou proved the stand-out performer; she left the Gold Coast with six medals bulging out of her overweight suitcase, four of them sharing the same name as the host city. An amazing performance for the 18-year-old from Cyprus, considering she has spent the previous two years in agony, breaking one leg in 2016 and then the other one the following year.
Agony and ecstacy in Squash
Agony and ecstasy were also to be witnessed on the Squash courts. Malaysian legend Nicol David has four previous medals from the Commonwealth Games, the same number that she has won at The World Games. Her tournament mirrored her 2017 experience in Wroclaw, a semi-final defeat ending her chances of gold; however in 2018 there was no bronze medal consolation prize. For Nick Matthew, another legend of The World Games having claimed the title in the 2009 edition in Kaohsiung, there was a similarly tame ending. The Englishman found, like Usain Bolt last year, that even for top athletes there is not necessarily a fairytale finish to sporting careers. Matthew's early rounds defeat sent him into retirement, frustrated that he could not defend his Commonwealth Games gold from Glasgow.
Joining Matthew in the departure lounge is compatriot and long-time rival James Willstrop. He is leaving Squash to try his hand at acting, which is highly appropriate as his whole career could be made into a Hollywood movie. When Matthew triumphed at The World Games in Chinese Taipei, it was Willstrop he beat in the final. The pair also duelled for gold in two Commonwealth Games, with the outcome always being the same. That was Willstop's problem throughout his career: good enough to play in the important games, but mentally not strong enough to lift the trophy. Despite being the World number 1 for a period, he never won a major singles prize in his professional career. That is until his last-ever Squash game, when he finally knew the elation of clutching the medal of a champion! A gold on the Gold Coast wraps up a wonderful sporting celebration, where time after time athletes proved that no matter what disappointments and cruel strokes of fortune they have endured, perseverance and hard work can finally result in glory.
High drama in Netball
Few moments in the history of the Commonwealth Games would have equalled the drama experienced on the Netball court. A last-second goal meant that for the very first time a Commonwealth Netball gold was awarded to a nation from the Northern Hemisphere. On the five previous occasions that Netball has featured at the Games, the final has always featured regional rivals Australia Diamonds and New Zealand White Ferns. Australia won gold the last time the sport was contested at The World Games and have triumphed at the World Cup on the last three occasions.
The stage was set for a historic meeting: England Roses in a first major final where they would have to confront two mighty foes, a virtually invincible Australia AND a potentially crippling inferiority complex, that would continually remind the Roses that they had never inflicted defeat on the Antipodeans in a major tournament.
Early in the final quarter Australia had a three-goal cushion. Previous English teams would mentally have conceded that yet again it was not going to be their day, but not this Roses side. Star forward Jo Harten continued to do what she does best, firing in goals from all angles, and by the final minute England had drawn level. As the game clock ticked down to the final few seconds, England's chance of glory appeared to have gone when first Harten missed, then Helen Housby also failed to find the net with the rebound. However the referee had spotted a foul on Housby, which allowed the English forward to take a free shot at goal. She composed herself, and as the ball sailed through the hoop, four decades of hurt and disappointment instantly evaporated. Roses players cartwheeled and hugged each other and embraced England coach Tracey Neville. For Neville the delirious celebrations would bring back memories of another famous last-minute victory. Her brothers, footballers Gary and Phil Neville, were part of the Manchester United team that in the 1999 Champions League Final staged an improbable injury-time come-back against Bayern Munich.
Brian Salmon for The World Games
The World Games is a multi-sport event staged every four years by the International World Games Association under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee. The 11th edition of The World Games will be held in Birmingham, Alabama, USA, 15-25 July 2021. 3,600 athletes from over 30 sports and 100 countries will take part in the Games.