THE long-established Commonwealth Games will be bringing in something new.
The quadrennial event that opens Thursday in Birmingham will be the first multi-sport international meet to host more medal events for women than for men, and is running in tandem with its largest ever para sport program.
There’ll be 136 gold medals awarded to women, 134 on offer for men, and 10 in mixed events when the 11-day Commonwealth Games, which started out in 1930 as the British Empire Games, is staged in England for the third time.
Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce could be lining up for one of them, just weeks after she won the 100 meters at the World Championships in Eugene, Oregon.
The 35-year-old Jamaican, a five-time world champion in the 100 and three-time Olympic gold medalist, has never claimed an individual gold medal at the Commonwealth Games.
Fraser-Pryce led a medal sweep for Jamaica in the 100 at the world championships in front of Shericka Jackson and Elaine Thompson-Herah. She finished second to Jackson in the 200, with Dina Asher-Smith of Britain taking bronze to prevent a back-to-back sprint sweep for Jamaica.
After finishing off with a silver medal with the Jamaican women’s 4×100 relay, Fraser-Pryce posted a message to fans on Facebook: “See you at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham!”
Asher-Smith already started thinking about Birmingham when she took bronze in the 200.
“Can’t wait to go to the Commonwealth Games next week, halfway across the world!” she said in a post-race interview with the BBC. “I still think the crowd at the Commonwealth Games is going to be amazing … better, because I’m a Brit.”
The Indian contingent had a setback on the eve of the Games, when Olympic javelin champion Neeraj Chopra withdrew from the team after doctors recommended he focus on rehabilitation for the groin injury he sustained on the way to a silver at the world championships last week.
“Needless to say, I am hurt about not being able to defend my title and missing out on another opportunity to represent the nation,” Chopra said in a statement posted on Twitter. “I am especially disappointed about losing out on the opportunity to be Team India’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony, an honour I was looking forward to.”
A highlight of the Games is the inclusion of women’s cricket for the first time, and World Cup champion Australia will be seeking to add to its recent dominance.
The Australians are weighing up whether they’ll march in the opening ceremony, which is the night before their big opening match against India.
The opening ceremony concludes at 10.30 p.m. and their first match Friday starts at 11 a.m., with a significant crowd expected at Edgbaston.
Australia coach Shelley Nitschke on Tuesday said the team’s priority was continuing its winning run in the big events.
“(There) is big motivation. It is the first one,” she said. “We are really keen to put our best foot forward and hopefully add a gold medal to the mix.”
A medal is also the main target for India, runners-up to Australia at the last T20 World Cup.
“This tournament is very important for us,” India captain Harmanpreet Kaur said. “This time we’re playing for medals. We’ve grown (up) watching these … and this time we’re glad we’re also getting opportunities to be part of this big event.”
In swimming, English champion Adam Peaty will be seeking a third Commonwealth Games gold medal in the 100 breaststroke when he returns to the pool after a fractured bone in his foot forced him out of the World Aquatic Championships at Budapest in June.
The world record holder and Olympic champion is among a star-studded roster of swimmers from the Commonwealth in attendance.
Australia is expected to lead the way in the six-day meet starting Friday.
The Australians placed second on the medal tally in the World Championships last month and will be strengthened by the return of Tokyo Olympic stars Emma McKeon and Ariarne Titmus.
But Australia will be without top-ranked backstroker Isaac Cooper, who was sent home from a recent training camp in France for disciplinary reasons including the misuse of medication.
Like all major events in the COVID-19 pandemic, there’ll be athletes among the roughly 5,000 attending from 72 nations or territories who’ll be impacted by the coronavirus.
Commonwealth Games medical advisor Dr. Peter Harcourt said about a dozen athletes a day had tested positive after arriving at the village from the 1,200 to 1,400 daily tests.
A positive test to coronavirus does not automatically preclude an athlete from competing. The decision will be made by each team’s medical staff based on a combination of factors including vaccination status and a cycle threshold (CT) to determine shedding levels.
Image credits: AP