A golden treble, flying rackets, stunning comebacks and unruly braids: LockerRoom hands out bouquets and brickbats to the Kiwi team at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.
Our Kiwi wāhine won 23 medals amidst a total of 49 (including squash’s mixed doubles), and seven were gold.
Ellesse Andrews went into these Games ready to compete in three cycling events – and won four medals. Selflessly stepping into the team pursuit for injured compatriot Ally Wollaston, Andrews did enough to get the team to the start-line and then switched her focus to her own events – the team sprint, the individual sprint and the keirin, smoking the field in all three.
Having to skip the team pursuit medal ceremony to prepare for her next race meant she never actually received her silver, but four medals to her name at Birmingham elevated her to stand among our best Kiwi athletes with one of the most legendary performances at a Commonwealth Games.
Only cycling team-mate Aaron ‘Golden’ Gate went one better with four gold medals – across track and road – the most any Kiwi athlete has won at a single Games.
Punching above her weight
New Zealand aren’t renowned for producing a wealth of world-class sprinters on the athletics track, more for hurling heavy objects in the field. The last Kiwi woman to make a 100m final at a Commonwealth Games was Briar Toop in 1990, finishing sixth.
Cue Zoe Hobbs. Born seven years after Toop’s final, Hobbs came into Birmingham fighting Covid, and faced a tough battle to make the final. However, after running 0.01s over her personal best in her heat, then finishing second in her semi, Hobbs broke a 32-year drought to line up in the final.
Up against legendary Jamaican sprinter Elaine Thompson-Herah (who ran sub-11s), Hobbs came out with a fighting 11.19s to finish sixth in the final – a moment she will always be proud of.
Most unexpected medal
Eliza McCartney captured the nation at the 2016 Rio Olympics winning bronze in the pole vault, and most were eyeing Olivia McTaggart to take over her reign as New Zealand’s vaulting queen. But it was 21-year-old Imogen Ayris, who pulled out a season’s best jump of 4.45m to claim bronze – dedicating the medal to her biggest fan, her late father, Barny.
Quickest medal performance
Despite knowing she’s capable of beating almost anyone in a sprint on the track, all Ellesse Andrews had to do was line up for the team pursuit to win silver. Making up numbers, Andrews cycled about 20 seconds into the gold medal race before peeling off and letting the endurance riders battle it out.
Tayla Ford didn’t even need 40 seconds to defeat her opponent in her final wrestling match in Birmingham. Pinning down her Mauritius rival almost instantly, Ford calmly smiling and barely breaking a sweat to claim bronze.
Most emotional moments
Dame Sophie Pascoe has overcome a lot in her swimming career, but recovering from Covid then losing her beloved nana just before heading to Birmingham was one of her toughest challenges yet. Competing in just one event, Pascoe left with a gold medal around her neck and a stream of tears down her face, joking she’s now known as ‘The Crier’.
Dame Sophie trying in vain to hold it together in the mixed zone after collecting her fifth Commonwealth gold medal
White Ferns captain Sophie Devine kept the hurt hidden from the public eye after a disappointing home World Cup earlier this year, but the joy of winning bronze in front of her family and friends in Birmingham had her tears spilling. “The last couple of months have been really tough, but to see the support we had from players, the wider cricket community, just means a lot to us and we’re just really proud Kiwis,” said Devine.
Of course they all had to happen on the penultimate day of the Commonwealth Games, and plenty of us won’t admit we retired early on Sunday night not expecting the White Ferns or the Silver Ferns to flip their pool play losses to England, and win bronze. But they did. And to make it an even better Monday morning, our squash queen Joelle King bounced back too (read below).
A shock semifinal defeat meant King was set up for a repeat of the Gold Coast gold medal match against long-time rival Sarah-Jane Perry, this time for bronze. King had the early edge, but a strong fightback from the Englishwoman denied King a medal, and the devastation was clear.
The normally passionate and vocal King was deflated and empty, but had to return for the mixed doubles and women’s doubles. The silver lining to her singles campaign was that she had the fire in her return for doubles, winning two gold medals – including New Zealand’s last medal with Amanda Landers-Murphy last night, convincingly beating England in two sets.
You’d be forgiven for assuming the Black Ferns sevens would win back-to-back gold – they were dominant winning the Olympic title in Tokyo and were confident going in to Birmingham. But a shock semifinal loss to Australia resigned the team to the play-off for bronze against Canada. While the disappointment was clear on their faces, they returned to the field with pride and as any sevens fan knows, they’ll come back even harder.
While a silver for Julia Ratcliffe in the women’s hammer throw was no surprise, the shock came when national record holder Lauren Bruce, who can throw well over 70m, was unable to record a single legal throw in the heats, denying herself a place in the final.
The Black Sticks were reigning Commonwealth champions, and while it was always going to be hard for the young inexperienced team to beat world No.3 Australia, the heartbreak came in the form of back-to-back losses in penalty shootouts. First in the semifinals to England, then in the bronze play-off to India.
And after their powerful start to the 3×3 basketball tournament, the Tall Ferns let a chance to win an historic debut medal slip through their hands, losing bronze to Australia’s Opals when it looked like it was theirs.
Least helpful accessories
Maddi Wesche’s sunglasses and Portia Woodman’s braids didn’t really help them a lot in Birmingham. Wesche has worn her ‘good luck’ sunnies in competition since last year’s Olympics, and had them on – at night – as she threw at the start of the final. By her last throw, she’d ditched them, and put on a bronze medal instead.
Portia Woodman’s new do for Birmingham 2022.
Woodman’s spectacular purple braids courted controversy when Aussie star Maddi Levi grabbed them in desperation, when it looked like the Black Ferns Sevens speedster was on her way to a try that could have changed their fortune. Levi got sinbinned, but many fans believe the Ferns should have been awarded a penalty try. Woodman wasn’t having a bar of it; it was her own fault, she said, for not tying up her long locks.
LockerRoom’s favourite moments
Merryn: I always love to catch sports that don’t normally get primetime coverage in New Zealand, and try to become an expert in one over the space of a week. These Games were no exception, as I caught every game of squash featuring Kiwis, and had my first real upset as I watched a deflated Joelle King miss the podium in the singles after a heartbreaking defeat.
But her loss made an eventual gold with doubles partner Paul Coll even sweeter, the bright smile returning to her face as she and good friend Coll stood on top of the podium – even after Coll accidentally hit her in the eye with his racket celebrating. A powerful haka rang out throughout the stadium as King and Coll watched, arm in arm.
An elated White Ferns captain Sophie Devine after smashing the winning runs against England at Edgbaston.
I was unlucky enough to be there in person for all three of the White Ferns’ devastating Cricket World Cup close losses earlier this year and watching veterans Devine, Suzie Bates and Lea Tahuhu face the music wasn’t easy.
With a raft of changes coming in, expectations weren’t high for the new-look team, especially after a heavy defeat to England in pool play. Even when the Kiwis came out with an explosive start to the bronze medal match, I couldn’t dare to hope, but once Devine was away, they were never losing. It was particularly special to see recently retired Katey Martin and Amy Satterthwaite (with daughter Grace) in the crowd – as both Devine and Bates pointed out, the win was for their whole extended cricket family. And seeing Devine tear up definitely brought the tears to my eyes too.
Suzanne: Watching our cyclists dominate these Games – winning 10 golds alone, after the sport’s year from hell – was an overall highlight. But one of the keenest memories sticking with me wasn’t a medal-claiming performance, but of an athlete who leapt higher than she ever had before. I screamed and jumped up and down in time with Keeley O’Hagan’s celebration after she cleared 1.89m in the high jump final. It wasn’t enough to put her on the podium, but it was a career best – and that meant so much to a young woman who’d been through some dark times. It represents what the Commonwealth Games are all about to me – the pursuit to be better.
It wasn’t a Kiwi success, but Scotland’s Eilish McColgan giving every ounce of her being to win a sprint down the home straight of the Alexander Stadium athletics track at the end of an incredible 10,000m final still gives me goosebumps – especially when you know what drove her. McColgan emulated the gold medal her mum, Liz, won over that same distance in both 1986 and 1990. A tearful, thrilled mother and daughter embracing at the edge of the track was gold in itself.
MEDALS WON BY KIWI WOMEN IN BIRMINGHAM 2022
Cycling – women’s sprint (Ellesse Andrews)
Cycling – keirin (Ellesse Andrews)
Cycling – individual pursuit (Bryony Botha)
Cycling – team sprint (Ellesse Andrews, Rebecca Petch and Olivia King)
Squash – mixed doubles (Joelle King)
Squash – women’s doubles (Joelle King and Amanda Landers-Murphy)
Swimming – (Dame Sophie Pascoe)
Athletics – hammer throw (Julia Ratcliffe)
Cycling – scratch race (Michaela Drummond)
Cycling – team pursuit (Bryony Botha, Michaela Drummond, Emily Shearman and Andrews)
Swimming – (Tupou Neiufi)
Athletics – pole vault (Imogen Ayris)
Athletics – shot put (Maddi Wesche)
Bowls – women’s pairs (Katelyn Inch and Selina Goddard)
Bowls – women’s triples (Val Smith, Tayla Bruce and Nicole Toomey)
Bowls – women’s fours (Smith, Bruce, Goddard and Toomey)
Cricket – White Ferns
Cycling – road time trial (Georgia Williams)
Judo – -78 kg (Moira Koster)
Judo – +78kg (Sydnee Andrews)
Netball – Silver Ferns
Sevens – Black Ferns
Wrestling – 68kg (Tayla Ford)