‘Tiny island nation of England’ struggling at Commonwealth Games
With 588 people in total it’s the largest England team ever sent to a sporting event
England’s Sarah McDonald reacts after the athletics women’s 1500m final during the 2018 Gold Coast Commonwealth Games. Photo: Saeed Khan/Getty Images
Team England ticked very few boxes at the Commonwealth Games on Tuesday, from the support officials who incomprehensibly botched the entry form for the cyclist Melissa Lowther to the athletes who became the latest high-profile names to fail to win medals.
With 390 athletes and 198 support staff, the England party is the largest ever sent to a sporting event, comfortably eclipsing the Great Britain team which travelled to the 2016 Olympics. At a cost of £5m of taxpayers’ and national lottery money to cover a preparation camp in Brisbane, flights, kit and other expenses, it has not come cheap. As the established names, arguably those most likely to inspire the future generation, continued to fall by the wayside on Tuesday through injury or lack of performance, it became increasingly difficult to defend that sum.
Tom Daley, one of a handful of household names here, announced he was withdrawing from the 10m platform individual event because of a hip injury. By nightfall on Australia’s east coast the weather had turned grisly, thrashing rain soaking spectators at the Carrara Stadium and English athletes producing performances to match.
Andrew Pozzi, a world champion with every opportunity to win, finished joint sixth in the 110m hurdles final, beating only one man. Ahead of him were Cyprus’s Milan Trajkovic, whose only senior titles are a pair of golds at the Games of the Small States of Europe, and the Australian bronze medallist Nicholas Hough, ranked 43rd in the world last year. “It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to see I should have been fighting for the medals,” Pozzi said. “I was in good enough shape to win a medal. These opportunities don’t come up often, so I have to wait another four years.”
In the hammer the Olympic bronze medallist Sophie Hitchon conceded she might need to fine-tune a new technique she is experimenting with after three foul throws left her in last place. The 26-year-old had entered the contest as favourite, expected at the very least to improve on the Commonwealth bronze medal she won at Glasgow in 2014. Her capitulation encapsulated a miserable Games for England’s most well-known performers.
There have been notable exceptions, particularly at the Aquatics Centre, where Ben Proud defended his 50m freestyle title, but even he was making amends for disqualification in the 50m butterfly, an event in which he was also reigning champion, earlier in the week. “When I lost the opportunity to retain my 50m fly title I really was clinging on to what I had left,” Proud said after winning in 21.35sec, half a second ahead of South Africa’s Bradley Tandy and Cameron McEvoy of Australia.
Despite a slew of medals in the pool and at the gymnastics, where Nile Wilson has repeatedly performed, the gap to the home nation in the overall standings is growing. With 130 medals, including 50 golds, Australia are not going to be caught by England, who have 74, including 24 gold. “The tiny island nation of England are not doing so good,” cackled a DJ on a local radio station.
The Brownlee brothers had set the tone in the triathlon on the opening morning of competition. Alistair, a double Olympic champion, trailed home in 10th while Jonny, who has claimed silver and bronze medals behind his sibling, was seventh. Both cited injury but neither seemed particularly cut by the defeat.
Max Whitlock is Olympic champion on the floor but could finish only seventh, beaten by the Cypriot Marios Georgiou, a part-time dancer who goes by the name “street boy killer”. To his credit Whitlock fronted up after his defeat and said he was still getting used to a new routine but it did call into question how important the Commonwealth Games is to athletes who know there are bigger tests round the corner.
The curse of the champions continued as Adam Peaty, fresh from winning the 100m breaststroke, was also defeated for the first time in four years in the 50m breaststroke at a Games which is showing little regard for bookmakers’ odds. Peaty reasoned that swimmers typically peak in the summer months, not in April when they would usually be in heavy training.
The same is true in athletics but Adam Gemili, another name who withdrew with injury, said he felt the time of year is irrelevant. “We all knew it was going to be in April and had plenty of time to prepare for that,” he said. “It shouldn’t really be an excuse for anyone. It’s more just unfortunate circumstances and a bit of bad luck.”
The chef de mission, Sarah Winckless, might have been tempted to implore the team’s big names to raise their game but she is occupying shaky ground when it comes to performance. The team’s leader was forced to apologise to the 21-year-old Lowther after she was unable to compete in the cycling because an official failed to tick a box on an entry form for the time trial.
The extraordinary administrative error was not spotted until it was too late, despite “seven or eight” layers of checks when the mistake could have been identified. Despite the reputation of the Commonwealth Games as the “friendly games”, the organisers refused to bend the rules to allow her to race. It is understood she is devastated and her family, who were hoping to watch her on the TV from their home in Wakefield, are furious.
Winckless, a world champion rower in 2005 and 2006, offered a personal apology to Lowther. “No athlete should suffer because of an administrative error by my group,” she said. “As soon as we knew of the error we did everything to rectify it and it went to the Commonwealth Games Federation re-allocation committee – unfortunately they were not minded to add her into the draw.” – Guardian service