Five Stars: Five Of The Best From Wales At The Commonwealth Games

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The Commonwealth Games athletes are returning home and for Wales they can reflect on a record-breaking tally of 36 medals, including 10 golds. But everyone has their favourites. Dai Sport writers reflect on theirs.

By Graham Thomas

Gilbert Miles – bronze medal in the Mixed B2/B3 Pairs Bowls

You don’t have to be young to thrive in competitive sport. You don’t have to be ultra fit, either, or even be able to see.

You just need a heart as big as Gilbert Miles’ and nerves as strong as the Welsh bowls bronze medalist’s.

The 72-year-old from Pontardulais near Swansea won his medal with the very last roll in the dice, when the pressure was at its most intense and the skill demanded was at its most exact.

If ever one moment summed up the determination, the resolve, but also the composure of Wales’ record-breaking medal tally, it was the last bowl of Gilbert’s mixed B2/B3 pairs, for visually impaired competitors, in the shoot-out for bronze against Scotland.

The Scots had trailed for almost the whole match, but then fought back and took the lead. The momentum – and the medals – seemed with them.

But Gilbert wasn’t having any of that. With one bowl left, he took his wood, asked his director teammate John Byron what he needed to do, and then rolled a perfect bowl, on a perfect line, with perfect weight, to miss all obstacles, and nestle up against the jack. Perfection.

These were the first Commonwealth Games to fully incorporate para and able-bodied events seamlessly into one schedule, a desire that began in 2002 but now has reached new levels of participation.

It perhaps makes medal count comparisons across the years more difficult, but that would be a crude objection that does not diminish the significance of meshing together both forms of competition.

Any bowls competitor, whatever their capabilities, would happily settle for the nerveless talent shown by Gilbert Miles, when it really, truly mattered most.

By Rob Cole

Alys Thomas – gold medal in the 200m butterfly

There are some moments in Welsh sport that linger long in the memory, that never diminish down the years in their excellence.

Irene Steer helping the British 4 x 100 yards freestyle team breaking the world record to win gold, the first for a Welsh woman, at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm; Lynn Davies beating the reigning champion Ralph Boston to win long jump gold in Tokyo in 1964; Steve Jones lowering the world marathon record in Chicago in 1984; Colin Jackson winning the World 110m hurdles title in a world record time in Stuttgart in 1993 and Nicole Cooke rising out of the rain in the final sprint at the Beijing Olympics in 2008 to win the women’s road race.

The 2018 Commonwealth Games have given us another magnificent moment to add to the collection, Alys Thomas’ gold medal in the 200 metre butterfly.

In a competition dominated by Australian and English swimmers, Thomas flew the Welsh flag as high as any other in the pool.

Where did she come from, how did she do it and wasn’t she too old to reach the top of the podium at 27 and at her third Games?

Oh ye of little faith! She prepared well, believed in her ability and herself and delivered an astonishing performance in the final.

Not only did she win and move into 10th place on the world all-time list for the event, she stripped more than two seconds off her previous best (from 2.07.54 to 2.05.45) and smashed the previous Games record that had stood since 2006 to the two-time world champion and world record holder Jessicah Schipper (2:06.09).

The rest of the field, that included the winner of the 100m event, Aussie Emma McKeon, and her team mate Laura Taylor, were simply blown away.

Thomas won by such a distance she could have made herself a cup of tea and opened a packet of biscuits to toast her success. It was staggering how easy it all seemed.

But that performance was obviously coming. At the Edinburgh International Meeting in March she had lowered her best time by more than 0.3 sec to clock the fourth fastest time of any swimmer in the world at the event in 2018 at 2.07.54. No wonder, then, she tweeted after that swim: ‘I may be ‘old’ but I can still PB unrested.’

The rest of the Commonwealth had been put on alert, but nobody could have predicted what she produced in the final.

She had warmed up with sixth place in the 50m and seventh in the 100m, but a sub-2.06 time in her specialist event was still only a pipe dream.

But, just as age is only a number, so are times in the swimming pool. She took on the challenge, hammered the Aussies in their own pool and emerged as the new golden girl of British swimming.

Bring on the European Championships later in the year!

By Ian Gordon

Wales Men’s and Women’s Hockey teams – 9th

It may not sound like much of a deal – 9th place at the Commonwealth Games – but set in context, both hockey teams produced startling performances which should live long in the memory.

Hockey is a global sport, played in nations such as India, England, Australia and South Africa who number their populations by the tens of million.

But Leah Wilkinson could hardly have asked for a more memorable way to mark setting a new Welsh cap record in her first outing as skipper of the women’s team.

On her 142nd appearance, the history teacher helped Wales create history as they beat world No. 10 India 3-2 in their opening game.

Goals from and Lisa Daley, Sian French and a late strike from Natasha Marke-Jones earned Wilkinson’s side victory against opponents ranked 16 places above them.

It was also only Wales’ third victory in 16 matches at the Commonwealths.

Wilkinson admitted: “This is the biggest win we’ve ever had. We played the Welsh way and did not give up.

“We fought and went all the way. We never gave up. We fought to the end. Passion and pride will get you there in the end.”

Wales’ women went on to finish ninth in the Games with the men’s team matching that placing after seeing off South Africa in their final game at the Gold Coast Hockey Centre.

But it was in the group matches where Zak Jones’ side almost pulled off a shock as they defied the 17 place difference in the ranking to led world No.7 England 2-0.

Luke Hawker and Ben Francis had given Wales the half-time advantage but Sam Ward completed his hat-trick with just two minutes left to deny Wales.

But the displays showed that the future of Welsh hockey is bright and their national teams can now be competitive against the best teams in the world.

By Owen Morgan

Melissa Courtney – bronze medal in the 1500m

“Sometimes the plan doesn’t go how you thought, it takes a different turn and leads to the unexpected!” 

Those were the words of Welsh athlete Melissa Courtney after she finished ninth in the 5,000 metres final at the Commonwealth Games. 

Courtney travelled Down Under to double up in the 1500m and  5,000m, but the longer distance was seen as the Poole AC athlete’s best chance of success. 

Sport is always at its most exhilarating, exciting and entertaining when it is at its most unpredictable. 

And something wonderfully unexpected had already happened for the 25-year-old in the 1500m final. 

She produced a superb performance to claim a surprise, but thoroughly deserved, bronze medal behind South African superstar Caster Semenya. 

After the race, Courtney, who clocked a personal best time of 4:03.44, said: “I’m in complete shock, I can’t believe I ran that fast.” 

Courtney should really have learned to expect the unexpected by now. Her career has been one of twists and turns. 

As a youngster she only took up running to help her training as a competitive swimmer. 

Having switched to athletics, her journey to success has been far from straightforward, narrowly missing out on qualification for the Glasgow Commonwealths in 2014 and the Rio Olympics in 2016. 

In between, illness saw her admitted to intensive care in 2015 just a couple of months before she made her debut for Great Britain at the European Under-23 Championships. 

There was a recurrence of the illness last year. The rare metabolic disorder means her body is unable to digest protein, leading to a build-up of ammonia in her bloodstream. She is now on medication to control the condition. 

But Courtney’s perseverance was finally rewarded in Australia when her plan took another turn and led to the wonderfully unexpected. 

By Terry Phillips

Tesni Evans – bronze medal in the squash

Tesni Evans has the world’s best squash players looking over their shoulders.

Cardiff-born, Rhyl-based Evans is the highest ranked Welsh women of all-time, standing at 12 in the list, and looks certain to rise again after winning a Commonwealth Games bronze medal.

It was the manner of that medal that was so impressive – a reward for knocking out England’s No.1 seed Laura Massaro, 3-1 in the quarter-final.

It was a tetchy, tense match against an opponent Evans lost to five times in succession at the start of their rivalry. Now, the tables have turned and this was Evans’ third win in a row.

At the age of 25, it seems as though Evans has finally found the deep-rooted self-belief and rigorous fitness levels to match her undoubted talent.

This has been a momentous year for Evans, who became the first Welsh player to become British champion in the event’s 43-year history.

She may not know how far she can go in world squash, but there is no doubting she has the ability to scrap it out with the best.

Former squash greats Cassie Jackman (England) and Sarah Fitz-Gerald (Australia) inspired Evans, who says: “When I lived in Cardiff they visited our club for an exhibition and to play with members.

“I was about eight-years-old at the time. It was amazing and so exciting to see them playing. I had a picture with them both.”

But the Commonwealth Games proved that Evans is now a true world class competitor who brings the whole of Wales together.

She is constantly working to improve her game and says: “I have worked to put intensity and aggression in my game by volleying more and trying to take the ball earlier.

“My career ambition is to get as high up in the rankings as possible and try and win World Series events.”

World Women’s Squash Rankings 

1 Nour El Sherbini (Egypt)

2 Raneem El Welily (Egypt)

3 Nour El Tayeb (Egypt)

4 Joelle King (New Zealand)

5 Nouran Gohar (Egypt)

6 Camille Serme (France)

7 Laura Massaro (England)

8 Sarah-Jane Perry (England)

9 Nicol David  (Malaysia)

10 Alison Waters (England)

11 Annie Au (Hong Kong)

12 Tesni Evans (Wales)

13 Olivia Blatchford (USA)

14 Joshna Chinappa (India)

15 Victoria Lust (England)

16 Donna Urquhart (Australia)

17 Salma Hany (Egypt)

18 Dipikia Pallikal Karthik (India)

19 Emily Whitlock (England)

20 Mariam Metwally (Egypt)

 

The post Five Stars: Five Of The Best From Wales At The Commonwealth Games appeared first on Dai Sport.

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Graham is a well known sports writer in Wales. He shares with the Eye stories on his other blog at http://www.dai-sport.com

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