Perhaps a slightly surprising notion, but I think the most likely athletic gold medals for England, in both men’s and women’s events, are in the hammer.
Olympic bronze medalist Sophie Hitchon will start as heavy favourite for the women’s hammer, having recently thrown 71.41 to win the Stanford invitational meet in the USA. Her only competition so far this season, the win and distance suggest that the British record holder has put a disappointing 2017 campaign behind her. When I say disappointing, I mean purely based on Hitchon’s own very high standards. In seven of the past nine seasons she has improved her personal best, and whilst her second best ever throw came last season, her major results were 5th at the European team championships and 7th at the world championships, both performances that left her in tears.
However, reports are that winter training has gone well and that she is ready to claim a first major senior title, having already won commonwealth youth, world junior and European u-23 titles. The commonwealth games record has been broken in each of the past three games, in 2006 by Australian Brooke Kruger with 67.90 and then back-to-back by Sultana Frizell, 68.57 in Dehli and 71.97 four years ago in Glasgow, when Hitchon took bronze. On the Gold Coast Frizell is likely to be the main challenger, looking for a remarkable third straight title. Whilst the Canadian has a better personal best (75.04 vs 74.54) that mark was set back in 2012 and I am confident that Hitchon will emerge victorious in a new games record.
Compatriot Nick Miller, 6th at the world championships in London last year, will also start as heavy favourite. Also coached by Tore Gustafsson, Miller was also victorious in Stanford, breaking his own British record with a fantastic throw of 78.29 that marks him out as the man to beat. Silver medalist four years ago, Miller will be joined by a whole group of world class Brits looking to make the podium. Wales’ Osian Jones has already improved his personal best this year, and Scottish pair Mark Dry and Chris Bennett, both olympians and world championship competitors, will be looking to push Miller hard. Keep an eye out for Taylor Campbell, making his senior debut. A training partner of Miller and Hitchon, Campbell already has a personal best of 73.40, a distance good enough to medal at most commonwealth games. This guy is a super exciting prospect and seems to have surrounded himself with the right people. The games record of 77.53 (Stuart Rendell, Australia 2006) should be re-written.
Whilst there is less to get excited about, from a home nations perspective, in the other throws, there could also be a hugely popular double victory for New Zealand. Whilst there are no certainties in Sport, Tom Walsh, reigning world champion indoors and out, and after recent performances, 6th on the world all-time list, should dominate the men’s event. Having recently improved his lifetime best to 22.67, barring disaster, Walsh should improve on his silver from four years ago, with a new championship record (currently 21.61, set by O’Dayne Richards of Jamaica in that competition in Glasgow).
The women’s victory is less guaranteed. Making a return to competition after having a baby, athletics living legend, Dame Valerie Adams, will have a more difficult job on (in) her hands. The double olympic, eight times world and three times commonwealth champion will no doubt be the focal point of the competition, but in Jamaica’s Danniel Thomas-Dodd there is serious competition. The Jamaican record holder competed in the discus four years in Glasgow, finishing 8th, and has undergone a transformation since then, collecting her first medal at the world indoors earlier this year after a 4th place finish at the world outdoors last year. Trinidad and Tobago’s Cleopatra Borel should also find herself amongst the medals and it will be interesting to see who comes out on top of Rachel Wallader and Sophie McKinna (both England) after the two of them combined to produce the event of the British indoor champs earlier this year. If you haven’t seen that competition, check it out on youtube and get ready to cry.
A home gold and successful defence of her title should beckon for Dani Stevens, the youngest ever world discus champion way back in 2009. Stevens, now 29, spent the years immediately following that triumph scraping into finals and ending up nowhere near the medals. However, since 2015 there has been a resurgence – 6th, 4th and 2nd places at the last three majors, culminating in a new personal best of 69.64. That mark is some four-and-a-half metres further than Beatrice Faumuina’s championship record, set way back in 1998 in Kuala Lumpur. It will be quite magical if Stevens is able to break it in her own back yard. A second commonwealth medal is a real possibility for England’s Jade Lally, who set her PB in Australia two seasons ago. If she can get close to that 65.10, it may well be an upgrade on her Glasgow bronze.
As with any continental championship, some events are noticeably weaker than others. That is certainly the case with the mens discus. However, that should take nothing away from what an exciting competitor Fredick Dacres is. The 24 year-old Jamaican has already thrown 68.08 this year. To put that into context, no one has ever thrown further in a commonwealth games. Interestingly Dacres is one of the few athletes who already has multiple competitions under his belt this season. Six outings in the discus and three in the shot put have all demonstrated that the 2011 world youth champion is in great shape and looking to throw far. There should be no real challenge to this athlete who has made the transition from outstanding youth to world class senior with minimal fuss.
Commonwealth javelin throwing is also not the strongest at present, with the very best competitors being German/Finnish and therefore not here in Australia. This is great news however for 2015 world champion Julius Yego. The Kenyan has spoken about suffering somewhat of a criss of confidence following his olympic silver in 2016. Thirteenth in London, the huge man who sits 5th on the world all-time list should find himself virtually unchallenged down under and that could be just the confidence boost he needs ahead of competing on the diamond league circuit this summer.
South Africa’s Sunnette Vijoen and Australia’s Kathryn Mitchell should go head-to-head in the women’s event. Vijoen, bidding for her third commonwealth title, seems to have been collecting medals forever. Indeed the olympic silver medalist will be making her 4th games appearance having won gold back in 2006 with a 60m throw. Given that Mitchell has launched a mammoth 68.57 Oceanian record already this season, if Vijoen is to stop a home victory, she will likely have to throw a lot further than the 60.72 she won with in Australia 12 years ago. Mitchell has no medals to her name, so a medal of any colour here would be the highlight of a good but often erratic career. The signs are good though, that area record was set just a few weeks ago on the 3rd of March, one of seven competitions she has already completed this year, many of which have included throws further than her pre-2018 best. With the home crowd on side I’m tipping Mitchell to win this one, but it won’t be easy.
The possibility of five countries collecting all eight throwing medals is slightly odd, Especially if there are Adams/Walsh and Hitchon/Miller doubles. I’m quietly confident that the throws will provide the most games records of any athletics sub-category and I absolutely cannot wait to be sat in the stadium when Dame Val enters the ring. I can almost feel the crackle of electricity now…