BIRMINGHAM: More than 5,000 athletes are poised for action in the English city of Birmingham starting Friday at a Commonwealth Games that lacks several athletics stars but still boasts elite performers.
Competitors from 72 nations and territories, many of which are former British colonies, will compete for medals in 19 sports over 11 packed days in the Midlands.
Away from the athletics and swimming highlights, Women’s Twenty20 cricket makes its debut and 3×3 basketball will be featured for the first time, while uneventful lawn bowling is a fixture.
There is an integrated para sports program at some events.
The Games, which take place every four years, are often criticized as a quirky sporting relic, but they will open in style with Thursday’s opening ceremony, fronted by Birmingham-formed 1980s pop band Duran Duran.
Sporting powerhouse Australia has topped the medal table at every Games since 1990 except for 2014 when England finished first in Glasgow, the last time the event was held on British soil.
England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland compete as separate teams during the Commonwealth rather than as a combined British team.
In the pool, Emma McKeon, Ariarne Titmus, Kaylee McKeown and teen 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 stay fresh for Birmingham.
“I am very excited and I think we have a great team. It’s crazy how deep we are,” said the Commonwealth Games 400m and 800m freestyle champion.
The 28-year-old McKeon, who won seven medals, including four golds, at last year’s Olympics in Tokyo, boasts a phenomenal record at the Commonwealth Games, with eight gold and four bronze medals in two appearances. .
Headlining for England will be breaststroke superstar Adam Peaty, who missed the recent world championships with a foot injury.
“I feel very good about myself, I feel very good in my physical form,” he told Sky Sports. “But now it’s about getting that cash out of the bank and seeing where I am.”
He said that he was enjoying competing in front of the home fans.
“I was born in the Midlands, I will probably die in the Midlands, it is my home.”
The Commonwealth Games come on the heels of the world championships in athletics in Eugene, Oregon, which ended on Sunday.
The world championships were rescheduled from last year after the coronavirus pandemic forced the delay of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, but that has created a headache for athletes in a packed schedule.
Olympic champions Andre De Grasse, Kirani James and Neeraj Chopra will definitely be absent from Birmingham.
Chopra, who won gold in the javelin for India in Tokyo last year, said he was “hurt” at not being able to defend his Commonwealth title after suffering a groin strain during the world championships, where he won silver.
There are big questions about the participation of the trio of Jamaican sprinters Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Shericka Jackson and Elaine Thompson-Herah, who swept the 100m podium in Oregon.
Jackson, who previously suggested he would compete in Birmingham, followed up his 100m silver at worlds by running the second-fastest time in 200m history.
In another blow, British sprinter Dina Asher-Smith announced on Wednesday that she had withdrawn from the England team due to a hamstring injury she suffered in Oregon “because of shortness.”
But there will still be star power at Alexander Stadium, with Australian high jumper Eleanor Patterson and javelin thrower Kelsey-Lee Barber arriving as new world champions.
Jake Wightman, who stunned Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen to win 1,500m gold in the US, will be one of the big draws for home fans in Asher-Smith’s absence, with Scottish Olympic silver medalist Laura Muir as another important name.
Cricket was last featured at the Commonwealth Games in 1998, but women will take part for the first time in Birmingham, with Meg Lanning’s Australia heavily favored to win the T20 competition.
Former Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas will ride for Wales and Australian cycling ace Caleb Ewan will also ride after a disappointing Tour.
Mark Cavendish, who rides for the Isle of Man rather than under the British flag, will have something to prove after missing out on Tour de France selection this year.