The Black Ferns Sevens bow out with bronze and a gutsy Para swimmer bags silver on another prolific day for NZ at the Commonwealth Games; LockerRoom wraps up performances of our wāhine on Day 3 in Birmingham.
Performances of the day
Tupou Neuifi had a message for her younger self as she stood on the Birmingham medal dais this morning with tears in her eyes and silver around her neck.
As a schoolgirl, Neuifi struggled when she was picked on because of her disability. She has hemiplegia – paralysis on one side of her body – and a traumatic brain injury, after being hit by a car when she was two.
“This was a note to my younger self, and also to those who are going through a tough time, that you know, you’ve just got to keep pushing and you’ll make it,” she told Sky Sport at the pool edge.
It was a day dominated by New Zealand’s swimmers, with fellow Para athlete Joshua Willmer and Lewis Clareburt both winning gold, while our rugby sevens teams both finished with bronze and cyclist Corbin Strong made his Commonwealth Games debut with gold in the scratch race.
Neuifi went out strong in her 100m backstroke S8 final this morning, and held a narrow lead over her closest rival, England’s Alice Tai, at the turn. But Tai stormed home, and Neiufi was more than happy with her time of 1m 17.91s to touch the wall in second. (She was sixth in the event at the 2018 Games).
“I’m not going to lie, the last 25 [metres] I didn’t think I was going to get it, but when I touched the wall and saw the time it was a shock,” Neiufi said. “The medal was a bonus.”
She paid kudos to her rival, Tai, who had her right leg amputated in January and missed last year’s Paralympics – where Neiufi won gold – recovering from elbow surgeries. “I know she’s been through so much, she’s been through four surgeries I think in the last couple of months. For her to get the gold, I’m so happy. She deserves it so much,” Neiufi said.
Although the faces of the Black Ferns Sevens didn’t necessarily show it on the fulltime hooter, the New Zealanders were happy to hold off a fast-closing Canada and win the sevens rugby bronze medal.
Captain Sarah Hirini told Sky Sport she was “bloody stoked” after leaving the field 19-12 victors – having “stuck something over those wounds” from their shock semifinal loss to eventual gold medallists, Australia.
“We’ve been competing against each other for the last six weeks so to be able to take on other people… we knew we wanted to do New Zealand proud,” she said.
The first half was all New Zealand’s, with tries to Michaela Blyde and Kelly Brazier putting them ahead 12-0 at halftime. Alena Saili scythed through the Canadian defence to run over half the field and score, but Canada hit back with two tries, which wasn’t quite enough. Australia went on to beat Fijiana, 22-12.
After a challenging start for 3×3 Tall Ferns, with a thrilling last-second win over England, they’ve shot their way into the semifinals of the first-time Commonwealth sport.
Having comfortably taken care of Canada, 21-11, the Ferns beat the the British Virgin Islands this morning,19-5; the Kiwis’ superior defence keeping their opponents scoreless for the final five minutes of the game. Their semifinal is tomorrow at 8.30am (NZT).
Quote of the day
“It was pretty tough last night, we didn’t get much sleep. But we’re a pretty close-knit team and it doesn’t take us that much to get back up again,” Sevens Sisters captain Sarah Hirini.
The good news
Opening ceremony flagbearer Joelle King easily dispatched Scotland’s Georgia Adderley in straight sets to qualify for the squash quarterfinals. Ranked fifth in the world, King won in three games, 11-3, 11-5, 11-5, from Adderley, ranked 62nd. Kaitlyn Watts couldn’t replicate her compatriot’s success, going down in a feisty and physical encounter to India’s Joshana Chinappa. Watts left everything on the court, losing 3-1.
Joelle King on her way to defending her Comm Games squash singles gold, beating Scot Georgia Adderley
On the bowling green, the slick Kiwi four remain unbeaten, after dismissing Botswana in their quarterfinal. 17-3. The New Zealanders – Val Smith, Tayla Bruce, Nicole Toomey and Selina Goddard – will now meet India in the semifinals. (Singles player Katelyn Inch lost a close battle to Lucy Beere of Guernsey, 21-16, in her quarterfinal, and the Para bowls pair of Lynda Bennett and Pam Walker were knocked out of the tournament, too).
Helena Gasson has flown into the final of the 50m butterfly after finishing fourth in her semifinal with a personal best swim of 26.36s and not far off a New Zealand record.
The White Ferns started their Games T20 campaign with a 13-run win over South Africa – Suzie Bates starring with 91 not out. Izzy Gaze and Eden Carson made their debuts, while captain Sophie Devine took three wickets to reach 100 T20 international scalps – the first Kiwi to do so. Their next game is against Sri Lanka, on Wednesday at 5am (NZT).
The Black Sticks remain undefeated, but were pushed hard by Scotland on Sunday, managing a 1-0 victory. Expect their next match against world No.3 Australia on Tuesday night to be their toughest yet.
The Silver Ferns enjoyed a day off after beating world No.6 Uganda, 53-40, on Sunday, and will face world No.7, Malawi, Tuesday morning. Remember, Malawi beat NZ for the first time in netball history at the last Commonwealth Games.
New Zealand’s beach volleyball duo of Shaunna Polley and Alice Zeimann had a comfortable opening two-set win over Kenya and will meet Ghana tomorrow morning.
The not-so-good news
The Kiwi mixed relay triathlon team were a mere eight seconds off bronze, fighting hard to hang on after England’s Alex Yee took a substantial lead in the first leg over Hayden Wilde. Three countries were left contesting two medals – the Kiwis right up there with Wales and Australia.
Nicole Van der Kaay and Taylor Reid lost no time, and Andrea Hansen started the final leg just 16 seconds behind England. But two minutes into her run, Hansen dropped away from Wales and Australia, and with that went New Zealand’s chance to equal or better the bronze they won on the Gold Coast four years ago.
It was always going to be a big ask for 40-year-old Hansen to keep up with the top three, after finishing 18th in the individual event two days ago. “I knew it was going to be tough going on that last leg but I just stayed in the race as long as I could,” she said.
England were uncontested winners, taking the gold medal 46s ahead of Wales, with Australia 3s further back. Hansen took the Kiwis home 57s off gold medal pace. “So close, bittersweet,” van der Kaay lamented.
Tauranga hairdresser/boxer Ariane Nicholson lost her opening fight in the light-middleweight class to India’s Olympic medallist Lovlina Borgohain by unanimous decision.
First, visually impaired cyclist Sophie Unwin and her pilot, Georgia Holt, were denied a place on the podium after finishing third in the tandem B event. Then they suffered the insult of a 200 Swiss franc ($334) fine. The distraught pair were told they wouldn’t receive the bronze medal, because rules state only gold and silver can be awarded if there are fewer than five competitors. So they took to the podium alone later, with medals borrowed from English team-mates, and were fined by the UCI for “failure to respect instructions”.
It’s not unlike the bizarre decision to fine Kiwi cyclist Ellesse Andrews for failing to turn up to the dais when New Zealand received their silver medals in the team pursuit on Saturday. Choosing to prepare for her team sprint gold medal ride instead, Andrews lost the silver and $334. Unperturbed, she went on to win another gold on Sunday in the individual sprint.
Watch out for double gold medallist Ellesse Andrews in her favoured event, the keirin, in the early hours of tomorrow morning, says LockerRoom’s two-time Commonwealth Games athlete, Sarah Cowley Ross.
“A beast on the bike with an ability to start her wind up a long way out, Andrews should assert her dominance in the Lee Valley Velodrome after claiming silver in this event at the Tokyo Olympics.
“The Tall Ferns 3X3 basketballers have been running hot in the central city Smithfield venue, unbeaten in pool play to advance straight tonight’s semifinals. The fast-paced game suits our Tall Ferns tall timber, with Beijing Olympian, Jillian Harmon, impressive alongside teammates Kalani Purcell, Ella Fotu and Tiarna Clarke.”
Who’s up next
MONDAY AUGUST 1
SQUASH: Joelle King, quarterfinals, 11pm
SWIMMING: Helena Gasson, Mya Rasmussen, 200m individual medley, 10.25pm; Eve Thomas, 800m freestyle, 10.45pm
TUESDAY AUGUST 2
WEIGHTLIFTING: Emma McIntyre (64kg), 1am; Megan Signal (71kg), 5.30am
CYCLING: Ellesse Andrews, Olivia King, Rebecca Petch (Keirin), 1am; Bryony Botha, Michaela Drummond, Emily Shearman (Scratch race), 4.05am
BASKETBALL: Semifinals, 8.30am
BEACH VOLLEYBALL: New Zealand vs Ghana, 6am
NETBALL: New Zealand vs Malawi, 7am
SWIMMING: Helena Gasson, final 50m butterfly, 7.40am.