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Aussies keeping grounded after night of gold glory at Commonwealth Games


Australia’s swimmers have greedily grabbed a fistful of gold on the opening night at Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games pool.

Australians collected five of the seven swimming gold medals on offer on Friday night.

Meanwhile, the Aussie track cyclists have bulleted to three triumphs in London’s Olympic velodrome in a golden start to their s campaign, bringing the total of golds overnight up to eight.

The men’s sprint team and the women’s pursuit quartet both roared to record-breaking triumphs on Friday.

It came after the remarkable Paralympian Jess Gallagher and her sighted pilot Caitlin Ward kicked off the gold digging at the scene of the 2012 Olympics by earning Australia’s very first gold of the Games in the tandem blind and visually impaired sprint.

The nation’s pool haul also features three silver and three bronze medals.

Elijah Winnington saluted in the first swim final of the Games, the men’s 400m freestyle.

And Australia’s 4x100m mixed freestyle relay team – Emma McKeon, Mollie O’Callaghan, Kyle Chalmers and William Yang – won gold in the last event of the night.

McKeon is now on the cusp of equalling the Australian record for most career gold medals at Commonwealth Games – she has nine, one shy of Ian Thorpe, Susie O’Neill and Leisel Jones.

“I haven’t done the maths … I’m not looking at medal tallies,” McKeon said.

Ariarne Titmus (women’s 200m freestyle), Zac Stubblety-Cook (men’s 200m breaststroke) and para-swimmer Timothy Hodges (men’s 100m backstroke S9) added golden touches for the dominant Dolphins.

Titmus, a month after recovering from COVID, triumphed in an Australian clean sweep of the medals in her final, as did Winnington, who almost quit the sport last year.

The silvers went to Sam Short (men’s 400m freestyle), Mollie O’Callaghan (women’s 200m freestyle) and Emily Beecroft (women’s 100m freestyle S9).

Kiah Melverton (women’s 400m individual medley), Mack Horton (men’s 400m freestyle) and Madi Wilson  (200m freestyle) won bronze medals.

But celebrity swimmer Cody Simpson crashed out of the 50m butterfly, finishing sixth in his semi-final and failing to progress to the final.

Titmus edged her training partner Mollie O’Callaghan by just 0.12 seconds to win a classic shootout between the established and rising stars of Australian swimming.

“I knew coming in she would be there,” Titmus said of her 18-year-old teammate O’Callaghan.

“She’s young. She’s feisty. She’s hungry.

“She’s what I was like – and I am still like that – but it’s exciting to have a bit of a battle out there.”

And Winnington’s win continues his stirring story of swimming redemption – he almost gave up after bombing at last year’s Tokyo Olympics when he entered as raging favourite but finished seventh.

The Queenslander admitted battling depression, feeling like a failure after Tokyo before seeking help from a psychologist and then a mindfulness coach.

After much introspection during months away from the pool, Winnington made a triumphant return to international competition at last month’s world championships in Budapest, winning gold in his pet event.

And now he has added the Commonwealth crown to his collection.

“It was really tough coming off the back of Toyko, I almost quit,” Winnington said.

“I decided to keep going and put myself and my mindset in the right spot to achieve what I have achieved this year.”

Amid the flag-waving, there was a sense of frustration about the end of an era as Australia’s flagship men’s pursuit foursome in the velodrome failed to make the final at the Games for the first time ever.

They had to settle for a bronze, after winning the race for third against Wales, but a four-medal start at least ensured Australia were in pole position to dominate the track program as they have in the last seven editions.

The evergreen Matt Glaetzer put the seal on the evening, picking up his fourth Commonwealth gold as he brought home the men’s team sprint title with a hammering of England’s trio after dazzling work from his lead-off man Leigh Hoffman and powerhouse Matt Richardson.

“It really does mean extra for me,” said Adelaide’s Glaetzer, reflecting on a terrific comeback after needing surgery to fight thyroid cancer and suffering injury woes.

“It’s been a tough couple of years but I knew I was capable and wanted to deliver some more medals for Australia.”

The trio set a new Commonwealth Games record of 42.042 seconds, after also setting a new mark of 42.222 in the qualifying ride. 

Gallagher, at 36, smiled that she was “getting better with age” after she and Ward won their final two races to nil against Scotland.

Already the only Australian to win a medal at the summer and winter Paralympics, she added: “To think I can have an impact on others, inspire them to chase their dreams – whatever part of life – that’s an honour for me, very humbling.” 

Minutes after her win, Georgia Baker, Sophie Edwards, Chloe Moran and Maeve Plouffe blitzed their pursuit final, clocking 4:12.234 to easily beat a New Zealand team, who were effectively down to three competitors because of an earlier injury to one of their key riders, by 5.750.

“Definitely the start of a new era,” beamed Baker, the elder stateswoman at 27 next to Edwards (22), Moran and Plouffe (23), predicting that “definitely, we could be world record breakers.”

The big shock came with the men’s pursuiters, as the Australians had won gold or silver at every edition since the event was added to the Games program in 1974. 

Indeed, it was only four years ago the squad broke the world record in Brisbane.

But the new-look, inexperienced quartet of Luke Plapp, Josh Duffy, Conor Leahy and James Moriarty could only qualify third-quickest on Friday morning behind fastest qualifiers New Zealand, who went on to beat England in the final.

There were a couple of near-misses for Australia too with the women’s team sprint trio of Kristina Clonan, Bree Hargrave and Alessia McCaig losing their bronze medal ride-off with Wales.  

And James Wootton and pilot Luke Zaccaria posted the fastest time in the men’s tandem 1km time trial, only for the next three teams to edge them out of the medals.

Scottish great Neil Fachie won his fifth Games gold medal, combining with pilot Stewart Lewis, with Wales second and England third.

© AAP





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