Australia ice a Commonwealth Games power house. Since the Games’ first edition in 1930 – back when they were known as the British Empire Games – the Australian delegation has topped the medal count on 13 occasions. Australia leads the all-time Games medal count by over 200 gold medals, with a total haul of 932 golds, compared to England, the next best with 714. Australia’s total is just shy of double that of third-placed Canada.
All of which means history favors the Australians when the latest edition, the 2022 Commonwealth Games, begin in Birmingham on Thursday. Recent form will favor Australian athletes too – the nation had its equal-best Olympic medal haul less than a year ago, in Tokyo. Here are 10 athletes, teams and events to watch as the Australians go for gold in the weeks ahead.
Ariarne Titmus (swimming)
When the 21-year-old Tasmanian dethroned American swimming star Katie Ledecky at the Olympics – not once but twice (in the 200m and 400m freestyle) – it marked a changing of the guard. Titmus proved it was no fluke earlier this year when she broke the 400m world recordand heads to Birmingham well-rested after opting to skip the world championships (where Ledecky regained her 400m crown).
But even without Ledecky (the United States do not participate in the Games), Titmus will not have it all her way. Canadian prodigy Summer McIntosh was not far behind the duo in Tokyo and, at just 15, is quickly making up ground. Titmus v McIntosh in Birmingham will be an intriguing encounter ahead of the three-way duel with Ledecky come the 2024 Olympics.
Peter Bol (athletics)
The middle-distance runner became an overnight sensation at the Tokyo Olympics, charming a locked-down Australia with his 800m prowess and charismatic post-race interviews. A medal eluded Bol – he finished fourth in the final, having gone hard and led until the last 100m – but the Sudanese-born Australian was instantly a household name.
Bol showed his form at the recent world championships in the United States, reaching the final in a competitive field, albeit finishing seventh. Competition will be slightly less stiff in Birmingham; none of those to finish on the podium at the world championships are contesting the Commonwealth Games.
Ellie Cole (swimming)
Australia’s most decorated Paralympian with 17 Paralympic medals to her name, Cole could have comfortably hung up her goggles after the Tokyo Games, where the 30-year-old collected two medals. But having said goodbye to the Paralympics, Cole wanted to say goodbye to the Commonwealth Games too – so she trained on to Birmingham and will formally retire after her lone event at these Games, the women’s S9 100m freestyle.
Despite the six Paralympic gold medals and three world titles to her name, Commonwealth Games gold has always eluded Cole – one silver and three bronze medals is the sum of her haul. She will not start as favourite, but if Cole can upset her rivals at the Sandwell Aquatics Centre, it would be a swansong for the ages.
Nicola Olyslagers and Eleanor Patterson (athletics)
Barring unexpected misfortune, Australia is all-but guaranteed to take gold in the women’s high jump. Nicola Olyslagers (née McDermott) won silver at the Tokyo Olympicswhile her compatriot Eleanor Patterson claimed the world title just last week. With the pair’s main rivals hailing from non-Commonwealth countries, the women’s high jump in Birmingham will likely come down to an all-Australian battle for gold. The duo currently share the Australian record at 2.02m. There is every chance that the record will be broken at the Games – by one (or both) of the Australian high jumping sensations.
Team pursuit squad (track cycling)
A quirk of history gives Australia a significant competitive advantage in the velodrome at the Commonwealth Games. While Great Britain’s constituent parts race together at the Olympics – where they are a formidable rival for the Australians – at the Games they race individually: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The impact of this disaggregation is felt most acutely in the team pursuit, involving teams of four in each race (and, typically, a squad of six). The gold medal winning British women’s endurance squad at the 2016 Olympics, for example, was composed of two English riders, a Scot and a Welshwoman.
This partially explains the Australian women’s dominance at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, where they qualified five seconds faster than anyone else on their way to gold. They arrive in Birmingham as favorites – having placed second at a UCI Track Nations Cup earlier in the year, behind Italy. While the Australian squad remains in transition, following several retirements post-Tokyo, Georgia Baker returns to the team from her road racing commitments and 23-year-old Maeve Plouffe continues to improve. Their male counterparts will also be aiming for gold – the defending Commonwealth Games champions will be hoping to forget their disappointing Tokyo outing, which was ruined by a freak handlebar mishap.
For some sports, the Olympics represent the pinnacle. For others, a domestic or international event is considered the ultimate achievement – the Tour de France in cycling, say, or the NBA finals in basketball. For netball, without a spot in the Olympics (although some are advocating for inclusion at the 2032 Games in Brisbane), the Commonwealth Games is the true test – particularly as few non-Commonwealth nations are competitive at the elite level. In Birmingham, the Diamonds will be eager to avenge their loss to England in the gold medal match on home soil in 2018. But they face a tough field – the English are favourites, while New Zealand and Jamaica will also offer stiff competition.
Emma McKeon, Mollie O’Callaghan, Shayna Jack (swimming)
There is every prospect that the Dolphins will sweep the women’s 100m freestyle in Birmingham. Emma McKeon is the reigning Olympic champion and will be fresh after opting to miss the world titles in Budapest. Young gun Mollie O’Callaghan, just 18, made the most of McKeon’s absence to win the 100m event at the world championships. Shayna Jack, back from her contested doping suspension (she was partially vindicated on appeal), is eager to make up for lost time; Jack looked in fine form in Budapest, collecting two relay medals, before injuring her hand before the individual events. Unless Canada’s 2016 Olympic champion Penny Oleksiak can spring an upset, the women’s 100m freestyle will be a battle between three Australians.
Table tennis team
The Australian table tennis squad arrives in Birmingham with medal prospects aplenty, following impressive showings at both the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo last year. Jian Fang Lay gained a cult following as she surged through the women’s draw in her record sixth Olympics. The China-born star, who turns 50 next year, first competed at the Commonwealth Games two decades ago, winning two silver medals and a bronze in Manchester in 2002. She added three more medals in the intervening Games, but is still yet to win a Commonwealth Games title. 2022 might be her year.
In Tokyo, Lina Lei and Qian Yang ended Australia’s Paralympic gold medal drought in table tennis – which stretched back almost four decades – when they both won gold within an hour of each other. They will be favorites in their respective categories.
Women’s cricket team
Women’s cricket makes its Commonwealth Games debut in Birmingham with a T20 tournament. The Australians have dominated the discipline, winning five of the past six World Cups, and are heavy favorites to win the inaugural Games competition. Alyssa Healy is in red hot form, hitting 170 to steer Australia to the 50-over world cup earlier this year and spinner Alana King is making headlines while ever-green all-rounder Ellyse Perry continues to impress. History beckons for the Australians, absent any unexpected collapses.
Madison de Rozario (athletics)
Madison de Rozario was among the stars of Australia’s Paralympic campaign in Tokyo, with two golds and a bronze medal – including a scintillating victory in the wheelchair marathon. De Rozario then continued that form to win the 2021 New York City Marathon, becoming the first Australian woman to win the event in any discipline. The 28-year-old won the T54 marathon and 1,500m at the last Commonwealth Games on home soil and will be confident of defending her crowns in Birmingham.