IMAGE || MICHAEL WILLSON
By Chris Abbott
Be it the theatre of the 100m sprint, the unbridled power of a hammer throw or the spatial awareness of a pole vaulter mid-flight, there is nothing that captures the imagination quite like Athletics.
From the pure speed of Jamaica’s sprint superstars to the legendary dominance of Kenya’s middle-distance champions, the Gold Coast is set to welcome some of the world’s very best track and field talent when Athletics action commences on Sunday 8 April.
Boasting a squad in excess of 100 athletes, Australia – on home soil – will aim to eclipse the 12 medals it returned from the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Despite hurdles pin-up girl Sally Pearson withdrawing on the eve of competition due to an Achilles injury, the Australian camp is still expected to feature prominently in the night sessions, where the bulk of medals will be presented.
Australia won eight gold medals in Glasgow four years ago, with only Dani Stevens (discus), Angela Ballard (T54 1500m) and Michael Shelley (marathon) defending their Commonwealth crowns in 2018.
On the Gold Coast, they will be joined by a new battery of Australian stars, with a significant core of the team making their Commonwealth Games debut. Names like Riley Day, Bendere Oboya and Kurtis Marschall could all become household names over the course of the next decade.
And whilst Australia prepares to toast its new generation, it will also reflect on the competitive swansong of one of this country’s favourite sporting sons. As an athlete, Kurt Fearnley has done it all. As a man, he has helped changed the face of Paralympic sport in this country forever.
He will bid an emotional farewell to Australian representative duties during the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games and will do so with an entire nation firmly ensconced in his corner.
Australia’s race walkers will be the first athletes to press their claims for gold, when they compete on the opening day of Athletics competition across the stunning surrounds of the Currumbin Beachfront.
Rio bronze medallist Dane Bird-Smith will headline the men’s 20km event, whilst Beki Smith, Jemima Montag and Claire Tallent are all capable on their day in the women’s race.
Australia’s sprinters appear set for another golden generation, with Riley Day announcing herself via a head to head race with Usain Bolt at Nitro, and her sprint teammate Trae Williams finding his own unique role as Australia’s newest sporting cult-figure.
He was recently coined “Quadzilla” via social media – in reference to his hulking quadriceps – after winning the men’s 100m final at February’s selection trials at Carrara Stadium, in a blistering time of 10.10secs. An assignment against Yohan Blake will be a race not to miss on the Gold Coast.
T35 100m world record holder Isis Holt and Paralympic legend Evan O’Hanlon (T38 100m) join them in a strong sprint squad, whilst 400m talents Steve Solomon, Morgan Mitchell, Anneliese Rubie and 200m dasher Alex Hartmann are other names to watch out for across the program.
Australia will unveil a mix of experience and youth across its middle-distance ranks, with Luke Mathews (800m), Madison de Rozario (T54 1500m), Linden Hall (1500m) and Genevieve LaCaze (3000m steeplechase) arguably the most credentialed in terms of medal calculations.
Whilst the green and gold army will be in full voice supporting the Aussie talent, it’s impossible not to keep an eye out for Africa’s many brilliant 1500m, 5000m and 10,000m runners. It’s Athletics not to be missed.
Australia’s throwers could be set for a memorable campaign on the Gold Coast with Dani Stevens, Kathryn Mitchell, Cameron Crombie, Damien Birkinhead, Kelsey-Lee Roberts and Hamish Peacock all in strong contention based on summer form.
Adding further interest to the field talent is Queenslander Matt Denny who will create his own slice of history on the Gold Coast as he becomes the first Australian in 68 years to contest both the hammer and discus competitions at Commonwealth level.
The home state theme is likely to resonate just as strongly in the jumps divisions with Brooke Stratton and Henry Frayne set to fly in the long jump. Erin Cleaver will also be a gold medal favourite in the T38 long jump field.
Kurtis Marschall is one of the top ranked international pole vaulters on the athletics circuit and he’ll chase a first major title at GC2018. The recent rise of Nina Kennedy suggests it could be podiums across both the men’s and women’s events. Australia has a strong history in the women’s pole vault at the Commonwealth Games, winning every gold medal on offer since its inception in Kuala Lumpur 1998.
In the high jump, Brandon Starc looms as Australia’s best chance, but it’ll take his best with outstanding talent from England, Canada and Bahamas in tow.
Decathlete Cedric Dubler has enjoyed a career best domestic season, highlighted by a strong personal best at the national championships. The multi-events will also provide a platform for one of Australia’s brightest emerging talents in the form of heptathlete Celeste Mucci.
The traditional curtain call will again be provided by the marathon events, with the wheelchair, women’s and men’s races all set to take place over the Southport Broadwater Parklands course.