The last time the Commonwealth Games were held on Australia’s east coast – Brisbane 1982 – England topped the athletics medals table with 11 golds. Thirty-six years on, a 92-strong England Athletics team returns fifty miles south to Gold Coast with healthy hopes of another sterling showing Down Under.
The squad contains two new world champions from the Birmingham World Indoor Championships, held at the beginning of March. Katarina Johnson-Thompson (Club: Liverpool Harriers, Coach: Bertrand Valcin) won pentathlon gold there, and now looks to follow in the footsteps of English winners Louise Hazel, Kelly Sotherton, Denise Lewis and Judy Simpson by claiming the Commonwealth crown in heptathlon. It will be 25-year-old Johnson-Thompson’s debut Commonwealth Games after missing Glasgow through injury.
World indoor 60m hurdles champion Andrew Pozzi (Stratford-upon-Avon AC; Benke Blomkvist) won in Birmingham by just 0.01secs. With Olympic and outdoor world champ Omar McLeod absent for Gold Coast, the 25-year-old can harbour strong hopes in the 110m hurdles. Another Jamaican, Olympic bronze medallist and sub-13 performer Hansle Parchment, will likely provide the stiffest challenge to Pozzi’s hunt.
The fastest road 5k run so far this year was by Laura Weightman (Morpeth Harriers; Steve Cram), who ran a PB 15:25 in Barrowford. At the warm up event in Brisbane, the 26-year-old produced a 4:05.89 win to underline her medal aspirations in the track 5,000m (Sat 14/4), which will pit her against reigning world champion Hellen Obiri and African champion Margaret Chelimo, both of Kenya.
While Zharnel Hughes (Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers; Glenn Mills) owns the swiftest 100m time run in 2018 (10.01 PB in Kingston), the 22-year-old is entered in the 200m. The 2015 world finalist was imperious in the warm up event, where he won at a canter in 20.23 – the quickest time run on Australian soil since 2001, ranking him third in the world for the longer sprint distance.
Also competing in the 200m will be 2014 world indoor 60m champion Richard Kilty. The Middlesbrough (Mandale) AC sprinter was, along with Hughes, part of the 4x100m team which set a world lead 38.31 at the warm up event. Harry Aikines-Aryeetey (Sutton & District AC; Benke Blomkvist) and Adam Gemili (Blackheath & Bromley Harriers AC; Rana Reider) comprised the other half of that team. Both are entered for the 100m, as Gemili looks to challenge Jamaica’s Yohan Blake and upgrade on the silver he won in Glasgow.
Quality also runs through the women’s short sprint team. European indoor 60m champ Asha Philip (Newham & Essex Beagles; Steve Fudge) will compete in the 100m after finishing fourth in 2014. European outdoor champ and British record holder Dina Asher-Smith (Blackheath & Bromley Harriers AC; John Blackie) joins Bianca Williams (Enfield & Haringey; Lloyd Cowan), bronze medallist from four years ago, in the 200m line-up. All three were part of the 4x100m team – along with Corinne Humphreys (Orion Harriers; Darren Braithwaite) – that won the warm up event in 43.20.
No team won more athletics medals than England at Glasgow 2014, and this year’s squad sees many return. Since winning hammer throw bronze, Sophie Hitchon (Blackburn Harriers & AC; Tore Gustafsson) has added Olympic bronze to her collection. Based on 2017 performances, Hitchon leads the entrants for Gold Coast, where she throws for gold ten years on from winning the Commonwealth Youth Games title in Pune.
On the men’s side, Nick Miller (Border Harriers; Tore Gustafsson) has this year extended his national record to 78.29m. That means he leads the world rankings as he looks to go one better than his silver medal from Glasgow.
Jade Lally (Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers; Andrew Neal) leads the hopes in the women’s discus. Since winning bronze last time out, the Mitcham-born thrower has completed training sessions with Australia’s home hope Dani Stevens, the 2014 champion who beat Lally at an event in Sydney a fortnight ago.
After bronze four years ago, Jade Jones (New Marske Harriers Club; Ian Thompson) returns for the T54 1500m. Four years before that, in Delhi, Katrina Hart (Birchfield Harriers; Robert Ellchuk) won gold T38 100m. Joining her in the squad for a debut Commonwealths is Paralympic and world champion Sophie Hahn (Charnwood AC; Joseph McDonnell).
A strong women’s long jump roster includes Jazmin Sawyers (City of Stoke AC; Lance Brauman), who returns in search of one better than the silver she won in Glasgow. Sawyers, who features on Jerusalem, the official Team England anthem, is joined by European indoor silver medallist Lorraine Ugen (Thames Valley Harriers; Shawn Jackson) and world silver medallist Shara Proctor (Birchfield Harriers; Rana Reider). Proctor leads the trio this year after a windy 6.83m to finish third at the warm up event in Brisbane, but all three could win medals in the final next Thursday.
England won medals in every relay event in Glasgow, including gold in the men’s 4x400m. Jamaica won every other relay title and will be the team to challenge, especially with the likes of double Olympic champion Elaine Thompson in their squad. Yet England retain much of their core relay squad from four years ago, including Team Co-Captain Anyika Onuora (Liverpool Harriers, Coach: Rana Reider), and should challenge in each race.
Onuora and Tom Bosworth (Tonbridge AC; Andi Drake) have commented on the Commonwealth Games’ importance for emerging athletes. Besides experience, Team England contains exciting talent – the time has nearly arrived for them to show it to the world.
The first athletics action of the Commonwealth Games is on Sunday 8 April with Bosworth, Callum Wilkinson and Gemma Bridge competing in the 20km race walk events from 7am (10pm UK time).