BIRMINGHAM: More than 5,000 athletes are ready for action in the English city of Birmingham from Friday at a Commonwealth Games devoid of several athletic stars but still featuring elite performers.
Competitors from 72 nations and territories – many of them former British colonies – will battle it out for medals in 19 sports over 11 action-packed days in the Midlands.
Away from the big athletics and swimming events, Women’s Twenty20 cricket is making its debut and 3×3 basketball will be featured for the first time while quiet bowls is a staple.
There is an integrated parasport program in some events.
The Games, held every four years, are often criticized as an eccentric sporting relic, but will kick off in style at Thursday’s opening ceremony, headlined by 1980s pop group Duran Duran, formed in Birmingham.
Sporting powerhouse Australia has topped the medal table at every Games since 1990 except 2014, when England finished top in Glasgow – the last time the event was held on British soil.
England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland play each other as separate teams during the Commonwealths rather than as a combined British team.
In the pool, Emma McKeon, Ariarne Titmus, Kaylee McKeown and teenage sensation Mollie O’Callaghan will lead the charge for a star-studded Australian team.
Double Olympic champion Titmus, 21, opted out of the recent world championships in Budapest to keep cool for Birmingham.
“I’m so excited and I think we have a great team. It’s crazy how deep we have,” said the Commonwealth Games champion in the 400m and 800m freestyle.
McKeon, 28, who won seven medals – including four gold – at the Tokyo Olympics last year, has a phenomenal Commonwealth Games record, winning eight gold and four bronze in two appearances.
The headliner for England will be breaststroke superstar Adam Peaty, who missed the recent world championships with a foot injury.
“I feel really good about myself, I feel really good about my fitness,” he told Sky Sports. “But now it’s about getting that money out of the bank and seeing where I’m at.”
He said he enjoys competing in front of home fans.
“I was born in the Midlands, I probably died in the Midlands, this is my home.”
The Commonwealth Games come on the heels of the world athletics championships in Eugene, Oregon, which only ended on Sunday.
The world championships were postponed from last year after the coronavirus pandemic forced a delay to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics, but it has created a headache for athletes in a busy schedule.
Olympic champions Andre De Grasse, Kirani James and Neeraj Chopra will definitely miss Birmingham.
Chopra, who won javelin gold for India in Tokyo last year, said he was “hurt” at not being able to defend his Commonwealth title after sustaining a groin sprain during the world championships, where he won silver.
There are big doubts about the participation of Jamaican sprint trio Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Shericka Jackson and Elaine Thompson-Herah, who swept the 100m podium in Oregon.
Jackson, who previously suggested she would compete in Birmingham, followed up her silver in the 100m at the world championships by clocking the second-fastest 200m time in history.
In another blow, British sprinter Dina Asher-Smith announced on Wednesday that she has pulled out of the England squad due to a hamstring injury she suffered in Oregon. due to the short deadline”.
But there will always be star power at the Alexander Stadium, with the arrival of Australian high jumper Eleanor Patterson and javelin thrower Kelsey-Lee Barber as new world champions.
Jake Wightman, who stunned Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen to win 1500m gold in the United States, will be one of the big draws for home fans in Asher-Smith’s absence, along with the silver medalist Scottish Olympic silver Laura Muir, another big name.
Cricket was last featured at the Commonwealth Games in 1998, but women will compete for the first time in Birmingham, with Australian favorites Meg Lanning to win the T20 competition.
Former Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas will compete for Wales and Australian cycling sprint ace Caleb Ewan will also feature after a disappointing Tour.
Mark Cavendish, who rides for the Isle of Man rather than the British flag, will have something to prove after missing out on selection for the Tour de France this year.