AAustralia is a Commonwealth Games powerhouse. Since the Games were first held in 1930 – when they were still known as the British Empire Games – the Australian delegation has topped the medal count 13 times. Australia leads the all-time Games medal tally with more than 200 gold medals. Australia are next best with 714, compared to England with a total of 932 gold balls. Australia’s total is less than double that of third-place Canada.
All of which means history favors the Australians when the 2022 Commonwealth Games kick off in Birmingham on Thursday. Recent form will also favor Australian athletes – the nation won its best ever Olympic medal in Tokyo less than a year ago. Here are 10 athletes, teams and events for Australians to watch as they go for gold in the coming weeks.
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 when she broke the 400m world record earlier this year and heads into Birmingham well rested after opting to skip the world championships (where Ledecky reclaimed her 400m crown).
But even without Ledecky (the U.S. is not participating in the Games), Titmus won’t have it all. Canadian prodigy Summer McIntosh wasn’t far behind the duo in Tokyo, and at just 15 years old, she’s quickly establishing herself. Titmus v McIntosh in Birmingham will be an interesting matchup before a three-way duel with Ledecky at the 2024 Olympics.
Peter Bol (athletics)
The middle-distance runner became an overnight sensation at the Tokyo Olympics, wowing a packed Australia with his 800m prowess and charismatic post-race interviews. Bol missed out on a medal – he went hard and finished fourth in the final, leading until the last 100 meters – but the Sudanese-born Australian became an instant celebrity.
Bol showed his form at the recent world championships in the USA, finishing seventh, but reaching the final in a competitive field. In Birmingham, the competition will be slightly less; none of those who reached the podium at the world championships participate in the Commonwealth Games.
Ellie Cole (swimming)
Cole, Australia’s most decorated Paralympian with 17 Paralympic medals to his name, could easily hang up his glasses after the Tokyo Games, where the 30-year-old collected two medals. But having said goodbye to the Paralympics, Cole also wanted to say goodbye to the Commonwealth Games – so she trained in Birmingham and will officially retire after her only event at the Games, the women’s S9 100m freestyle.
Despite six Paralympic gold medals and three world titles to his name, Commonwealth Games gold has always eluded Cole – one silver and three bronze medals being his haul. He won’t start as favourite, but if Cole can upset his rivals at the Sandwell Aquatics Centre, it will be a swansong for the ages.
Nicola Olyslagers and Eleanor Patterson (athletics)
Barring some 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 Olympics, while her compatriot Eleanor Patterson was world champion last week. With the pair’s main opponents coming from non-Commonwealth countries, the women’s high jump in Birmingham is likely to become an all-Australian battle for gold. The pair currently share the Australian record at 2.02m. There is every chance of a Games record breaking by one (or both) of Australia’s high jump sensations.
Team pursuit (cycling)
A quirk of history gives Australia a significant competitive advantage in the velodrome at the Commonwealth Games. Although Great Britain’s constituents compete together at the Olympics, where they are big rivals for the Australians, they compete individually at the Games: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The effect of this disaggregation is most felt in the team hunt, with teams of four (and usually a crew of six) participating in each event. For example, the British women’s endurance team that won gold at the 2016 Olympics consisted of two English riders, a Scot and a Welsh woman.
This partly explains the Australian women’s dominance at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, where they qualified five seconds faster than anyone else en route to gold. They come to Birmingham as favourites, having finished second behind Italy in the UCI Track Nations Cup earlier in the year. Although the Australian squad is in transition after several retirements since Tokyo, Georgia Baker returns to the team from 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 trip to Tokyo, which was marred by a freak accident on the handlebars.
For some sports, the Olympics represent the pinnacle. For others, a local or international event is considered the ultimate achievement—for example, the Tour de France in cycling or the NBA Finals in basketball. For netball, which does not have a place in the Olympics (although some are advocating inclusion in the 2032 Games in Brisbane), the Commonwealth Games are a real test – especially since several non-Commonwealth countries can compete at an elite level. In Birmingham, the Diamonds will be looking to avenge their 2018 gold medal loss to England on home soil. But they face a tough field – England are favourites, New Zealand and Jamaica will also offer tough competition.
Emma McKeon, Mollie O’Callaghan, Shayna Jack (swimming)
The Dolphins have every chance of winning the women’s 100m freestyle in Birmingham. Emma McKeon is the reigning Olympic champion and will be fresh after choosing to miss the world championships in Budapest. Young gun Mollie O’Callaghan, just 18, made the most of McKeon’s absence to win the 100m at the world championships. Shayna Jack, back from a controversial doping sentence (partially acquitted on appeal), is eager to make up for lost time; Jack looked in fine form in Budapest, collecting two relay medals before injuring his hand before the individual events. Unless Canada’s 2016 Olympic champion Penny Oleksiak fails to pull off an upset, the women’s 100m freestyle will be a battle of three Australians.
Table tennis team
The Australian table tennis team arrived in Birmingham with plenty of medal prospects after impressive performances at both the Olympics and Paralympics in Tokyo last year. Jian Fang Lay earned a cult following by storming through the women’s draw in her record sixth Olympics. The Chinese-born star, who turns 50 next year, first competed 20 years ago at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester, winning two silvers and a bronze. He has won three more medals in the intervening Games, but has yet to win one. Commonwealth Games name. 2022 could be his year.
In Tokyo, Lina Lei and Qian Yang ended Australia’s Paralympic table tennis gold medal drought – which stretched back nearly four decades – with both winning 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 having won five of the last six World Cups and are heavy favorites to win their first Games competition. Alyssa Healy is in red-hot form, hitting 170 to guide Australia to the 50-over world cup earlier this year, and spinner Alana King is making headlines while evergreen all-rounder Ellyse Perry continues to impress. History beckons Australians without any unexpected collapse.
Madison De Rosario (Athletics)
Madison de Rozario was among the stars of Australia’s Paralympic campaign in Tokyo, with two golds and a bronze, including a brilliant victory in the wheelchair marathon. De Rozario then continued this form by winning 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 1500m at the last Commonwealth Games and will be confident of defending his crowns in Birmingham.