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Let the games begin! The kiwis' on a quest for gold

After years of blood, sweat and tears, disappointment and doubt, our sporting elite are bringing it to Birmingham. Let’s cheer them on!

The 22nd Commonwealth Games marks a very special milestone for Aotearoa – for the first time in New Zealand's Commonwealth and Olympic history, more than half of our 234-person strong team and almost 40 percent of the support staff are women.
In this Commonwealth special, the Weekly looks at some of the inspiring athletes who will be competing in Birmingham from Friday, July 29 to Tuesday, August 9 for their place on the podium.
Paul Coll and Joelle King
Squash players
One is the current men's world number two, and the other is the Commonwealth Games singles and doubles defending champion, so squash stars Paul Coll and Joelle King are expecting to have a few medals hanging around their necks by the
end of the tournament.
It has been an outstanding season for Paul, 30, on the court, who became the first Kiwi to reach number one in the world squash rankings earlier this year, winning three titles, although he dropped to number two after narrowly missing out on gold at the World Tour Final.
The experienced duo, who won bronze at the 2018 Gold Coast Games in the mixed doubles event, lead a team of seven players and Joelle says she can't wait to see their young stars shine on the world stage.
"We've got the three of us who have been there before and some youngsters coming through, which is exciting to see them experience it for the first time," enthuses the 33-year-old. "I'm looking forward to pulling the silver fern over my chest once again."
Joelle and Paul will be looking to beat the bronze they won in 2018.
Andrea Hansen and Hayden Wilde
It has only been 17 months since Andrea Hansen (née Hewitt) welcomed her first child with her husband Ollie, but the two-time Commonwealth bronze medallist is feeling more than ready to finally get her hands on the gold that has eluded her for the past 16 years.
"I got in the water two weeks after giving birth, so I was pretty motivated straightaway," tells the 40-year-old, whose former fiancé and fellow triathlete Laurent Vidal tragically died in his sleep in 2015. "I wasn't fast, but I was motivated.
"I'm feeling very lucky to be back for my fourth Commonwealth Games."
New-mum Andrew has something to prove.
Also in the six-strong team of triathletes is 2020 Olympic bronze medallist Hayden Wilde, 24, who has continued to build on his success in the World Triathlon Championship Series, picking up two wins and two second-place finishes on the circuit, and is currently the series leader.
Hayden is going in as the favourite.
Tupou Neiufi
Twenty-year-old Tupou Neiufi was stunned when she brought home New Zealand's first gold medal of the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics and it's a feat she's hoping to repeat at the Commonwealth Games in her specialist event, the 100m backstroke.
Though Tupou has lived with a disability most of her life – she was hit by a car when she was two years old, which resulted in hemiplegia, meaning she has paralysis on the left side of her body – the Aucklander admits it wasn't until she stood on the podium with her medal in hand that she finally accepted herself.
"I was always scared that I would be defined and judged by my disability, and not by the person I am on the inside," she says. "It took winning a gold medal and achieving success on the international stage to stop me from being afraid of who I am."
Julia Ratcliffe
Hammer thrower
As the defending Commonwealth hammer throw champion, Julia Ratcliffe, who works as a senior analyst in financial markets at the Reserve Bank, has a lot of pressure on her shoulders. But as the 29-year-old prepares for her third Games, she admits
the overwhelming feeling she has is excitement.
"I never thought as a kid that I would go to three Commonwealth Games, so it blows my mind a little to think how long I've been throwing and how far I've come," the Hamilton-born athlete shares. "I'm very excited to have another opportunity to represent New Zealand with pride."
After placing ninth at the Tokyo Olympics, Julia is feeling confident as she enters the Birmingham tournament and is especially buoyed by the fact that this year, she will have two Kiwis throwing alongside her.
"At the first two Games, there was only me," she recalls. "So having three athletes in the black singlet is pretty awesome."
The money's on Julia for a podium finish.
Sophie Pascoe
In the past 12 months, Sophie Pascoe has added four more Paralympic medals to her collection, bringing her total to 19, been appointed a Dame in the New Year's Honours and got engaged to her longtime partner Rob Samson.
Now, the 29-year-old is hoping to top off a stellar year with another win in the Commonwealth pool in her single event, the women's 100m freestyle.
This Birmingham Games marks the first major tournament that Sophie faces without her coach of 20 years, Roly Crichton. The pair decided to part ways earlier this year, in part due to the legendary coach's ongoing health issues, which kept him from accompanying Sophie to the Toyko Paralympics.
"He's given me the opportunity to represent New Zealand. He's guided me, coached, and we've grown together coach and athlete, but also as humans and I'm so proud of what we have achieved," the four-time Commonwealth gold medallist tells.
"The special thing is we have an amazing bond between us that'll carry on for a lifetime."
The pool star already has a 19-medal haul.
Ellesee Andrews
One of the most memorable parts of NZ's Olympic campaign in 2021 was Ellesse Andrew's raw emotion after she won silver in the women's keirin, capturing the hearts of the nation as she declared, "I can't stop crying."
Though she is hoping to build on that triumph, the 22-year-old's build-up to Birmingham was hindered when she was forced to
take an eight-week break at the start of the year after she broke her collar-bone in a serious crash.
Ellesse's success on the bike is not surprising as both of her parents are also champion cyclists. Her father Jon, 55, won two bronze medals at the 1990 Commonwealth Games, and her mum Angela Mote-Andrews was a multi-sport athlete and mountain biker.
"I could never do what Ellesse can do," tells Jon. "She's a sprinter with phenomenal endurance – and you don't usually see that. She's surpassed me already."
Maddi Wesche
Shot putter
Dame Valerie Adams left a large hole in the New Zealand athletics world when she announced her retirement in March, but up-and-coming shot-put star Maddi Wesche has proven that she is more than ready to continue her winning legacy on the world stage.
The 23-year-old Aucklander has made a name for herself in the sport not only for her throwing ability – she finished an impressive sixth at her first Olympics in Tokyo – but also for her keen fashion sense, often rocking a pair of sunglasses when she competes.
"It's an essential part of the comp kit," tells Maddi, who won the Halberg Awards Emerging Talent award in 2019. "I train with them most times that I'm throwing because it's pretty sunny in Auckland, but they're a bit of a comfort thing for me."
All eyes will be on Maddi, who is a Halberg Emerging Talent recipient.
Jason Koster & Moira de Villiers
After almost 20 years representing Aotearoa and sadly missing out on the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, this year's Games will mark the triumphant end of Jason Koster's international judo career.
"To be able to look back and say I've made it to two Commonwealth Games, I think 10-year-old Jason would have been pretty proud of that."
The 39-year-old will compete alongside his wife Moira de Villiers, who he also coaches, and who has a good chance of winning gold after coming away with a silver in 2014 – judo wasn't included in the 2018 Games.
"After having my daughter four years ago, it's been a real goal to get back to the Commonwealth Games and I've got my eyes on gold this time," tells Moira, 32, who is mum to Sam, 11, and Norah, four. "We've been on this journey together for a really long time, and it's amazing to have my husband and coach right by my side."
The couple will be cheering each other on.
Tayla Ford
It has been a long, hard fight for Nelson-born wrestler Tayla Ford to make it to this year's competition. After most wrestling competitions were cancelled due to Covid and she missed out on a spot at the Tokyo Olympics, the 29-year-old says she almost gave up the sport entirely.
But after seeing a sports psychologist, Tayla is ready to fight for her place on the podium and is even working four jobs to get herself to Birmingham.
"I want to win gold, I really do," tells the Adelaide-based athlete, who won bronze at the 2014 Games in Glasgow.
"I'm aiming to win gold, be aggressive and do my best.
"I'm just feeling an overwhelming amount of pride, happiness and excitement to have been named. I can't wait to get over there and showcase what I'm capable of."
Black Sticks
Hockey Players
Our hockey girls pulled off a shock upset when they defeated four-time Commonwealth champions Australia in the gold medal match at the 2018 tournament – and with a fresh batch of players, they are hoping to do it again.
The team comprises of Kaitlin Cotter, 20, Anna Crowley, 22, Tarryn Davey, 26, Frances Davies, 25, Stephanie Dickins, 27, Katie Doar, 20, Megan Hull, 26, Alia Jaques, 27, Tessa Jopp, 27, Tyler Lench, 25, Alex Lukin, 25, Olivia Merry, 30, Grace O'Hanlon, 29, Hope Ralph, 22, Brooke Roberts, 27, Olivia Shannon, 21, Rose Tynan, 25, and Aniwaka Haumaha, who is making her comeback to professional sports after taking a seven-year break to have children.
"This doesn't happen to everybody, especially after having two little kids," tells the 33-year-old. "The fire was still in
my belly, so I'm excited and grateful for the opportunity to compete in Birmingham."
Aniwaka is back on familiar turf after having two kids.
Silver Ferns
Netball squad
After failing to pick up a medal for the first time since netball was included in the Commonwealth Games in 1998, the Silver Ferns are looking for redemption in Birmingham.
While the pressure is on the squad to live up to Aotearoa's glittering netball reputation, the stakes are also high for Dame Noeline Taurua, who was brought on as head coach in 2019 to pick up the pieces after their failure on the Gold Coast.
The 54-year-old admits bringing home gold will be tough. "I've been tracking players in Australia and the UK over the last two years. Hand on my heart, definitely at this moment of time, I do feel that getting to grand finals is going to be difficult."
Te Paea Selby-Rickit, 30, Bailey Mes, 33, Kelly Jury, 25, and Shannon Saunders, 31, are the four remaining members of the previous squad, and are joined by captain Gina Crampton, 30, vice-captain Sulu Fitzpatrick, 29, Maia Wilson, 24, Grace Nweke, 20, Whitney Souness, 26, Kate Heffernan, 22, Phoenix Karaka, 28, and Kayla Johnson, 30.
Whitney and the girls have a hard road ahead.
Black Ferns
Rugby Sevens players
Every single member of this year's Black Ferns women's sevens team bar one has represented Aotearoa on the world stage.
After going to Tokyo as a reserve, 22-year-old Jazmin Hotham finally gets her moment to shine on the field as the dominating side looks to build on its success after winning gold in 2018 – the first year sevens was included at the Commonwealth Games.
"To put on the black jersey is pretty huge – it's an unreal feeling," tells Jazmin, who is one of five siblings. "To represent all those players who have gone before me, my family, friends and New Zealand, it's massive."
Jazmin joins captain Sarah Hirini, 29, Michaela Blyde, 26, Kelly Brazier, 32, Theresa Fitzpatrick, 27, Stacey Fluhler, 26, Shiray Kaka, 27, Tyla Nathan-Wong, 28, Risi Pouri-Lane, 22, Alena Saili, 23, Niall Williams, 34, Tenika Willison, 24, and Portia Woodman, 31.
Jazmin is one of the youngest in the squad.
White Ferns
Cricket team
After failing to qualify for the semi-finals at the Cricket World Cup earlier this year, the White Ferns are hoping for a better outcome at its first-ever appearance at the Commonwealth Games.
It's the debut of T-20 cricket at the tournament and also the first time female teams will compete – the only other time cricket was included was in 1998 with a men's 50-overs competition.
The squad is filled with fresh new talent after a big shake-up to the line-up saw veteran White Fern Amy Satterthwaite dropped from the team. Her wife, bowler Lea Tahuhu, also wasn't offered a contract but has since been called up to replace Jess Kerr, who has been sidelined due to an injury.
The team comprises of captain Sophie Devine, 32, Suzie Bates, 34, Eden Carson, 20, Izzy Gaze, 18, Maddy Green, 29, Brooke Halliday, 26, Hayley Jensen, 29, Fran Jonas, 18, Amelia Kerr, 21, Rosemary Mair, 23, Jess McFadyen, 30, Georgia Plimmer, 18, Hannah Rowe, 25, Lea Tahuhu, 31, and Claudia Green, 24.
Sophie (left) and Suzie will be making Games history.
How can I watch the Games?
The 22nd Commonwealth Games kicks off with a glittering opening ceremony on Friday, July 29, airing from 6.45am on Prime. Sky Sport will offer six Games channels with live content from 7.30pm through to 8am, and replays and highlights throughout the rest of the day. You can also stream Commonwealth Games coverage on Sky Go and Sky Sport Now. Highlights and best moments will also be available as video on demand on Sky Sport Now and Sky Go. Free-to-air coverage, including Kiwi athletes competing at the Games, as well as other awesome events and highlights will also be available on Prime daily from 7.30pm.

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