21st Commonwealth games athletics: the story thus far

With the 21st edition of the Commonwealth games well underway on Australia’s Gold Coast, we have already been treated to some brilliant showdowns and individual performances in track and field. The Australian contingent is thriving off home support and has landed an impressive eight gold medals, eight silvers and six bronzes at the time of publishing. Their total of 22 is twice as many as their next closest rivals, Jamaica, who surprisingly obtained one of their golds in the women’s 3000m steeple chase. Earlier today, Aisha Praught put in a fantastic last lap to reel in Kenya’s Celliphine Chepteek Chespol and pulled away from her to win in 9m21s.

Jamaica’s Praught on her way to a surprise 3k steeplechase gold

Being traditionally dominant in the sprints – especially in the absence of perennial rivals USA – Jamaica has unsurprisingly done well on the track. In the men’s 400m, Javon Francis profited from the high-profile absence of Wayde Van Niekerk to grab a top-three finish, winning bronze. Jamaica also completed the gold and silver double in the men’s 110m hurdles, taking advantage of an uncharacteristically poor performance from England’s world indoor champion Andy Pozzi, as well as winning silver and bronze in both the women’s 100m and 400m.

However, in arguably Jamaica’s signature event – the 100m – Yohan Blake disappointed. As he lined up in the final, it came as no surprise that the world’s joint-second fastest man ever, with a PB of 9.69, was tipped for gold. Yet his start was surprisingly poor and he struggled to cut a significant deficit between himself and the two South Africans who won gold and silver, Akani Simbine and Henricho Bruintjies respectively. In fact, Blake just managed to beat Nigeria’s Seye Ogunlewe to bronze by less than a hundredth of a second. In the words of the 400m great Michael Johnson, he raced ‘like a kid back on the schoolyard’. In truth, Blake had his work cut out for him even if he ran according to plan. South Africa has to date won the third highest number of medals in athletics during these games, and their double in the 100m would have surprised few.

Further corroborating an article written by yours truly back in November hailing the rise of African sprinters, Botswana dominated the 400m event, as Isaac Makwala banished his demons from August’s world championships in London to win comfortably, his young teammate Baboloki Thebe himself grabbing silver. In the women’s event, their compatriot Amantle Montsho won gold, with another Botswanan, Christine Botlogetswe, just missing out on bronze as Jamaica’s McPherson held on for third place.

For their part, the England team has disappointed, winning only two medals so far: Nick Miller’s gold in the hammer throw and Tom Bosworth’s silver in the 20km race walk. The disqualification of the nation’s best 400m prospect – Matt Hudson-Smith – proved an indicator of things to come, as he stepped out of his lane and exited in the heats on day one of the track and field events. Adam Gemili, tipped for a medal in the 100m, was forced to pull out of the final with an injury picked up in his semi-final. As mentioned earlier, Andy Pozzi failed to follow up his February indoor 60m hurdles world title with a medal-winning performance in the 110m hurdles, saying ‘I don’t want to see the replay’ in his post-race interview. Further disappointment for England came when Rio Olympics hammer throw bronze-medallist Sophie Hitchon failed to register a single successful attempt in the preliminary round of the final, finishing dead last.

Despite winning his heat with ease, Hudson-Smith bowed out early after a lane infringement

To add salt to the wound, for the first major championships in a long time, England will not be able to rely on Mo Farrah for near-guaranteed medals in the men’s 5k and 10k events. Nevertheless, the sprint relay events are yet to come; having provided the bulk of the athletes for the four relay medals won in quick succession on the final day of August’s world championships, England will fancy their chances of cleaning up, especially given the absence of the relay powerhouse that is the USA.

Furthermore, in the 200m semis, King’s College London alumna Dina Asher-Smith qualified second-fastest for Thursday’s final with plenty to spare and will be joined by compatriot Bianca Williams. In the men’s 200m, Zharnel Hughes looked comfortable as he cruised to a semi-final win, guaranteeing himself a good lane with the third-fastest qualifying time of 20.37.

400m hurdler Eilidh Doyle is a strong medal prospect for Scotland

As for the other home nations, Scotland will be hoping to come away with more than their current total of two medals, with prospects in the women’s 800m heats, as well as the finals of the men’s 800m and women’s 400m hurdles, among others. For their part, the Welsh are already punching above their weight and have landed an excellent two gold and two bronze medals, making athletics their most successful discipline so far in these games. Finally, Northern Ireland’s Leon Reid pulled off a brilliant result in qualifying for the men’s 200m final tomorrow.

We still have three exciting days of Commonwealth athletics to come, so stay tuned for a post-event synopsis on Saturday 14th. As London’s universities prepare for the first LUCA outdoors league meet of the season, here’s to hoping the exploits of athletes on the Gold Coast will inspire some excellent performances and top-notch competition on Sunday April 15th.

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