Australia 1
From left: Chelsea Hodges, Emma McKeon, Mollie O'Callaghan and Kaylee McKeown of Team Australia pose after winning the gold in the women's 4x100 meters medley relay final. Image Credit: AP

Birmingham: Emma McKeon, Ariarne Titmus and the rest of Australia’s swimming team are heading home after a stellar Commonwealth Games with their eyes firmly set on the 2024 Olympics.

Australia won 25 of 52 golds in the Birmingham pool, with their established stars supported by an exciting cast of up-and-coming talents, including teenager Mollie O’Callaghan.

McKeon was the headline performer. She won six golds, a bronze and a silver to take her career Games tally to 20 medals — more than any other athlete in Commonwealth history. Her 14 golds are also a record.

Titmus swept the women’s 200, 400 and 800-metre freestyle events and was also part of the winning team in the 4x200-metre freestyle relay.

Fierce competition

Kaylee McKeown won four golds, while Elijah Winnington was one of the standout male performers.

Australia did not have the US team to contend with in Birmingham. Yet the quality and depth of Australia’s squad, with swimmers who skipped the World Championships in Budapest in June returning, will make their greatest rivals take notice two years away from the Olympics.

Titmus, speaking a day after the end of the swimming, said fierce competition within the squad pushed them to greater heights.

The 21-year-old, who won 200 and 400-metre freestyle gold at last year’s Tokyo Olympics, said it was often tougher to qualify for the Australian team than to reach Commonwealth finals.

Australia 2
Australia's Emma McKeon competes in the women's 4x100m medley relay final. Image Credit: AFP

“Just to get onto the team is a task in itself and people like Mollie are up and coming and pushing you along and it’s great motivation,” she said.

“And as I’m getting older I feel as though I’m becoming more and more hunted but that’s a good thing I think. It keeps me on my toes, keeps me motivated and I’m excited to see how much better I can get.”

Titmus said her focus had switched immediately after Tokyo to the 2024 Olympics in Paris — where she is expected to go head to head again with US star Katie Ledecky.

“There’s always hype around it because it’s such an amazing rivalry,” said the Australian, who skipped the world championships to focus on the Commonwealths.

“Who would have thought that two women would be swimming as fast as we are over the 400m at the same time?

“But I think it’s good also having younger girls coming up. I used to be one of those younger ones who was coming up so it’s great for the sport.”

Rising stars

O’Callaghan won four gold medals and two silvers in Birmingham, including the 100m freestyle.

The 18-year-old, who came away from last year’s Covid-delayed Olympics with two relay golds and won the 100m individual freestyle in Budapest in June, said she now felt she belonged on the team. She too said she was focused on Paris.

“Last year was about learning and getting experience. I absolutely loved being on a relay team,” she said.

“I’ve gained so much experience and so much support I just can’t wait.”

O’Callaghan said the great strength of the Australian team was that “there’s always going to be someone coming up”.

“I guess it’s the support, and the previous swimmers and the current swimmers who guide us and I guess the depth in Australia definitely pushes us to do more and achieve more and I think it’s mainly those factors that make us so great in Australia.”

Team spokesman Ian Hanson said another reason for Australia’s success was their coaching.

“The people that don’t get the credit in all this are the coaches,” he said. “I think we’ve got a system of coaching Down Under that’s come from a great tradition of great coaches.

Rohan Dennis
Australia's Rohan Dennis in action during the men's individual time trial final. Image Credit: Reuters

“I think these athletes are on a performance pathway to Paris. We were the last team to leave that pool last night. They had a big team meeting.

“The other teams walked past them and saw what was going on in the Australian camp and the unity in that team and the comradeship is just extraordinary but you don’t get these results unless you work your butt off.”

Dennis strikes gold

Meanwhile, Australia’s two-time individual world time trial champion Rohan Dennis won gold as former Tour de France winner Geraint Thomas took bronze despite a crash.

Dennis’s victory over the 37.4-kilometre course in 46 min 21.24 sec made it a clean sweep for Australia after favourite Grace Brown won the women’s event (40 min 5.20 sec) over 28.8km.

Dennis, the 2014 Commonwealth silver medallist, made it to the top of the podium after winning in Wolverhampton.

“I’ve finally got that top step,” said the 32-year-old, who won silver in the team pursuit on the track at the 2012 Olympics. “It’s taken 12 years, since Delhi (2010 Games).

“I definitely didn’t come close to that top step there but 12 years later I finally got it. But it is a different feeling being on that top step.”

Thomas’s hopes of adding time trial gold to the road race title he won in 2014 were dashed when he fell early in the ride.

Amit Pangal storms into semis

He picked himself up but had to settle for bronze behind England’s Fred Wright, who took silver.

The 2018 Tour de France winner said he had only himself to blame for the fall.

Indian boxers Amit Panghal, Jaismine Lamboria and Sagar Ahlawat advanced to the semi-final after winning their respective quarter-final bouts, assuring three more medals for the country.

Former world No 1 Amit, who had to settle for a silver medal at Gold Coast 2018, beat young Scottish boxer Lennon Mulligan 5-0 in his quarter-final to storm into the semi-finals of the men’s flyweight 51kg boxing event at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Solihull.

Panghal, a former Asian Games champion and world championships silver medallist, eased into the bout after landing some big left jabs early but the young Scotsman presented a resolute front, landing a few meaty shots of his own.

Pakistan's Abbas advances

The Indian, who had defeated Vanuatu’s Namri Berri by unanimous decision in the round of 16, however, moved up a gear midway through the first round and landed a few heavy lefts to finish strong.

Mulligan came out swinging in the second round and stayed busy on the mat to push the Indian to the ropes. The experienced Amit, though, counter punched his way out of the seize and nicked the second round off the young Scotsman as well on the scorecard.

Pakistan’s Shajar Abbas advanced to the next round of the 200-metre sprint after winning his heat. He covered the distance in 21.12s to finish first. He was followed by Nigeria’s Udodi Onwuzuruike, who moved to the next round with a time of 21.18s. Earlier, Shajar put up an impressive show in 100-metre race but missed out on the next round by a mere 0.01 seconds.