From ages 16 to 75, Kiwi wāhine will be well represented at the 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games.
New Zealand are sending 234 athletes to Birmingham, and 124 of them are women. That’s 53 percent of the team – the biggest percentage of women to ever represent New Zealand at a Commonwealth or Olympic Games.
Almost 40 percent of the support team (coaches, managers, physios and doctors) are women as well, something New Zealand Olympic Committee CEO, Nicki Nicol, is very proud of.
“We’ve got some fantastic women in roles both competing, as well as in the team support area, so that’s really exciting as a woman leader in the sports sector,” she says.
Nicol began her role in March, taking over from Kereyn Smith after working at NZ Rugby for five years, and says it’s inspiring to see so many women who girls – her two daughters in particular – can look up to.
“Being able to see women really comfortable and integrated as part of a team such as this is just really exciting so for me; it’s fantastic. They’re great role models, they’re fantastic wāhine toa who permeate across sports,” she says.
The NZ Team won 46 medals at the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games (25 of them by women) and 15 were gold. It was the third-most successful Commonwealth Games for the Kiwis, after the 1950 and 1990 Auckland Games, where New Zealand earned 54 and 58 medals respectively.
T20 cricket and 3×3 basketball make their Commonwealth Games debut this year – with Kiwi women’s teams competing in both. New Zealand will be represented in 19 sports, including Para swimming and Para lawn bowls.
Nicol hesitates to pick one sport she’s most looking forward to, but gives swimming and rugby sevens a special mention.
“But I’m equally excited about seeing new sports I don’t know as much about, like badminton and wrestling,” she says.
“For us, there are 234 individual stories of how people got there, so I wouldn’t want to put one above the other. We’ll certainly celebrate all the achievements and our job is making sure we’re doing all we can to help each one of them.”
The New Zealand team will be split between five bases rather than at one centralised athlete village – the impacts of Covid meaning athletes will be staying in the closest venues to their competition.
Unlike last year’s Tokyo Olympics, the event is open to the public, making the threat of Covid much stronger. But Nicol says the Kiwi contingent will be adopting safe practices.
“We’ll have a lot of mask-wearing, and we’ll see that as a source of competitive advantage rather than a compliance piece,” she says. “Our first priority is to get everyone to the start line.”
Now all the athletes have been named, LockerRoom takes a look at the wāhine wearing the fern in Birmingham:
The Black Ferns Sevens have named a strong squad to defend their Commonwealth Games gold medal, captained by Sarah Hirini. A team boasting legends Portia Woodman, Kelly Brazier, Niall Williams and Michaela Blyde, the Black Ferns will be strong favourites for the gold medal with their recent form, but may face tough competition from Australia and Fiji.
Looking for redemption under Dame Noeline Taurua, the Silver Ferns selection surprised many, with some experienced players named as reserves and others missing out completely. There was good news for the Ferns this week when exciting young shooter Grace Nweke was given medical clearance to play. It will be a challenge for the reigning World Cup winners to make it out of pool play unscathed, facing 2018 Commonwealth champions England in Group B. But Kiwi netball fans will simply have to trust Taurua once more.
After a disappointing Cricket World Cup, the White Ferns have gone back to the drawing board, with retirements, experienced heads missing out and a new coach coming in. It’s been a while since we’ve seen the Ferns play back-to-back T20 matches, but expect legends Sophie Devine and Suzie Bates to stand up, along with young gun Melie Kerr. South Africa and England will be the early challenges for the new-look team in T20 cricket’s Games debut.
The other new sport on the Games roster, 3×3 basketball, is proving popular with players and fans alike. The Tall Ferns, including professional firefighter Ella Fotu, didn’t make it out of pool play in the World Cup in June, with one win and three losses, but with a maximum of 10 minutes on the clock, the unpredictable nature of the game ensures an exciting watch.
The Black Sticks won their first Commonwealth gold in 2018, beating Australia in a convincing 4-1 final. But in the latest games between the trans-Tasman rivals, Australia had the upper hand, winning two and drawing two. The reigning champs might be considered underdogs when they take on Australia in pool play, but their unbeaten performance so far at the World Cup in the Netherlands – reaching the quarterfinals – make them a team really worth watching.
Ten women will wear the fern in the athletics team this year, competing in seven disciplines. And most will hone their skills at the world track and field champs in Oregon starting next week.
With Dame Valerie Adams retiring after a bronze in Tokyo, Maddi Wesche will take up the shotput challenge. After a sixth place in Tokyo, Wesche threw a personal best of 19.10m at home in March, the third best throw in the Commonwealth this year. Gold Coast gold medallist Julia Ratcliffe will be joined by current New Zealand record holder Lauren Bruce and Nicole Bradley for the hammer throw, while Tori Peeters rounds out the throwers with the javelin, making her debut appearance at a Games.
Olivia McTaggart and Imogen Ayris will look to replicate the success of the absent Eliza McCartney in the pole vault in Birmingham, and Keeley O’Hagan has met the selection criteria for high jump.
In one of the most highly anticipated events of any Games, Zoe Hobbs will line up in the 100m, making her Games debut, while the multi-talented Portia Bing competes in the 400m hurdles.
Twelve cyclists make up the road and track team, including Olympic keirin silver medallist Ellesse Andrews and BMX rider Rebecca Petch, who’s switched to the track. New Zealand won a whopping 17 cycling medals at the Gold Coast, and will no doubt be looking for a similarly successful haul this year.
Dame Sophie Pascoe, who’s recovering from Covid, leads the swimming team in Birmingham, the legend of the pool buoyed by her four Commonwealth Games gold medals and four medals from the Tokyo Paralympics. Tupou Neiufi is the other Para swimmer competing, the 21-year-old looking to back up her gold medal from Tokyo in the 100m backstroke. Five able-bodied swimmers will represent New Zealand, with exciting young talent Erika Fairweather, who made the 400m freestyle final in Tokyo, is definitely another to watch.
Lawn bowls is New Zealand’s fifth most successful Commonwealth Games discipline – 40 medals coming out of the sport in its history. There are three Kiwi women competing in Para bowls, including our oldest athlete – 75-year-old Sue Curran, at her third Commonwealth Games. Among the five women in the able-bodied category is Val Smith, attending her fifth Games.
Looking to defend her two Gold Coast golds and a bronze will be squash star Joelle King, competing in singles, mixed doubles and the women’s doubles with Amanda Landers-Murphy. New Zealand has a second doubles pairing in Kaitlyn Watts and Abbie Palmer.
Megan Signal is due to make her Commonwealth Games weightlifting debut, after a string of unfortunate injuries ruled her out of the 2018 Games and the Tokyo Olympics. She’ll be joined by Emma McIntyre and Hayley Whiting, also competing at their first Games.
Forty-year-old Andrea Hansen (née Hewitt) is attending her fourth Games, after giving birth to her first child at the start of 2021. Olympians Nicole van der Kaay and Ainsley Thorpe round out the triathlon trio, with two of the three to be chosen to compete in the mixed relay, in which New Zealand won bronze with Hansen and van der Kaay at the 2018 Games.
This is Shaunna Polley and Alice Zeimann’s second season playing beach volleyball together, and they’ll contest the women’s pair in its second appearance at a Commonwealth Games.
Two teenagers will represent New Zealand in diving – Maggie Squire (our youngest competitor) and Mikali Dawson both not yet 18. Squire will compete in mixed synchro’s debut at the Games as well as individual springboard, while Dawson is a 10m platform diver.
Rhythmic gymnastics will also be contested by two youngsters – 17-year-old Paris Chin and 18-year-old Havana Hopman.
Moira de Villiers won silver in the 2014 Games, and after having a daughter four years ago, is looking to go one better and win a gold for judo this year (her husband, 2014 bronze medallist Jason Koster, is also competing). She’s ranked second in the Commonwealth and in good form, and will be joined by the young trio of Sydnee Andrews, Qona Christie and Hayley Mackey.
A bronze medallist from Glasgow in 2014 at 21, Tayla Ford joins MMA fighter Michelle Montague in New Zealand’s wrestling team, while Troy Garton, Ariane Nicholson and Erin Walsh will wear the Fern in the boxing ring.
The last member of the New Zealand team is Anona Pak, competing in the badminton mixed doubles.
*The 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games opening ceremony gets underway at 5am (NZT) on July 29, with the first Kiwis competing later that evening. All the action screens live on Sky Sport across six Birmingham 2022 channels, with free-to-air coverage on Prime.