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Who are the Great Britain athletes to watch at Birmingham 2022?

The build-up to the Commonwealth Games has been far from the norm for three-time Olympic gold medallist Adam Peaty.

In Summary

•Great Britain’s most successful female Olympic athlete Laura Kenny didn’t compete at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, having given birth to her son Albie just eight months before.

•The 1500m races at the recent athletics World Championships in Eugene, Oregon, saw two medals hung around British— and Scottish— necks, with gold for Jake Wightman in the men’s race and bronze for Laura Muir in the women’s.

Britain's Beth Dobbin, Imani-Lara Lansiquot, Dina Asher-Smith and Daryll Neita celebrate after winning the women's 4x100m relay in a recent race
Britain's Beth Dobbin, Imani-Lara Lansiquot, Dina Asher-Smith and Daryll Neita celebrate after winning the women's 4x100m relay in a recent race
Image: FILE

The Commonwealth Games are a rare opportunity for athletes to swap the red, white and blue of Great Britain for the colours of their home nation.

So as teams England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland gear up for the 2022 Games in Birmingham, who can we expect to see among the medals?

Here are the ones to watch from across the home nations.

 

Adam Peaty (swimming - England)

The build-up to the Commonwealth Games has been far from the norm for three-time Olympic gold medallist Adam Peaty.

A broken foot - the first major injury of his career - saw him ruled out of the World Championships in Budapest last month, before which his coach Mel Marshall said it was “pretty tight” as to whether Peaty would make the Games.

The 27-year-old is aiming to defend his 100m breaststroke Commonwealth title for a second time, as well as looking to turn his 50m silver from 2018 into gold.

Peaty first made his name at the Glasgow Commonwealths in 2014, winning two gold medals for Team England. He’s since gone on to win 16 European titles and eight world titles, in addition to those Olympic golds.

Laura Kenny (cycling - England)

Great Britain’s most successful female Olympic athlete Laura Kenny didn’t compete at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, having given birth to her son Albie just eight months before.

But she is back for Birmingham, eight years after winning points race gold in Glasgow with her sights set on adding to her Commonwealth haul. Since winning her fifth and sixth Olympic medals in Tokyo last summer, Kenny had a miscarriage and an ectopic pregnancy but returned to cycling in April.

She had been due to go up against GB team-mate Katie Archibald on the track at London’s Lee Valley VeloPark, but the Scot was forced to withdraw from the Games as she recovers from a series of injuries.

Jake Wightman/Laura Muir (athletics - Scotland)

Laura Muir with Kenya's Faith Kipyegon in a past race
Laura Muir with Kenya's Faith Kipyegon in a past race
Image: FILE

The 1500m races at the recent athletics World Championships in Eugene, Oregon, saw two medals hung around British— and Scottish— necks, with gold for Jake Wightman in the men’s race and bronze for Laura Muir in the women’s.

In winning, Wightman, 28, became the first British man to win the world 1500m title since Steve Cram in 1983. He won bronze at the 2018 Commonwealths but will be looking to upgrade the colour at Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium. Before Wightman’s success at Hayward Field, Muir got the medal ball rolling with her hard-fought bronze, her second global outdoor medal after winning Olympic silver last year.

Muir hasn’t competed at a Commonwealth Games since Glasgow 2014 when she finished 11th, but now aged 29, she is one of the favourites to land a podium finish this time around.

Watch out too for Scotland’s Olympic medallist Josh Kerr, who became the first British man to win a medal in the Olympic 1500m since 1988 when he won bronze in Tokyo last summer. He finished fifth at the World Championships ahead of making his Commonwealth Games debut.

Jake Wightman with his parents Geoff and Susan after the race
Jake Wightman with his parents Geoff and Susan after the race
Image: FILE

Amy Conroy (wheelchair basketball - England)

Wheelchair basketball will make its Commonwealth Games debut in Birmingham, with the fast-paced 3×3 format taking place at Smithfield in the heart of the city.

Three-time Paralympian Conroy is one of four athletes selected for the English women’s team, alongside Jade Atkin, Joy Haizelden and Charlotte Moore. She said it will be an “absolute honour” to represent Team England.

The 29-year-old - who lost her left leg through cancer as a teenager - is a key member of the Great Britain team that won world championship silver in 2018, and European silver the following year.

The 3x3 version of the sport is played on a half-court, with teams having just 12 seconds to shoot during each phase of play. Games are played over a single 10-minute period.

Rhys McClenaghan (gymnastics - Northern Ireland)

Rhys McClenaghan rose to prominence four years ago when he beat England’s then-two-time Olympic champion, Max Whitlock, to pommel horse gold on the Gold Coast.

At one point, it looked like he wouldn’t be allowed to compete in Birmingham after the International Gymnastics Federation (FIG) banned him because he has represented Ireland in international competitions.

However, in June, FIG changed its ruling after considerable anger from Commonwealth Games NI and a host of athletes and politicians, including Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State Brandon Lewis and Tánaiste (Irish deputy PM) Leo Varadkar.

Since his 2018 victory, 23-year-old McClenaghan has also won European gold and World Championship bronze, and with Whitlock opting to miss the 2022 Commonwealths, he has a good chance of defending his title.

Dina Asher-Smith (athletics - England)

Dina Asher-Smith t
Dina Asher-Smith t
Image: TWITTER

English sprinter Dina Asher-Smith has individual titles at World and European level but individual Commonwealth gold has so far evaded her.

The 26-year-old, a two-time Olympic medallist, helped England to the 4x100m relay title on Australia’s Gold Coast, as well as winning 200m bronze.

After a mixed start to the season, she had looked to have found her form for the busy summer of athletics, equalling her 100m personal best time at the recent World Championships and winning bronze in the 200m.

But a mystery injury, sustained in the 4x100m relay, may have stuck a spanner in the works for the Commonwealths. Should she make it to the start line, she is likely to again come up against the likes of Jamaicans Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, Shericka Jackson and Elaine Thompson, who took a clean sweep of the worlds 100m podium in Oregon.

And, with a home crowd behind her, can Asher-Smith use it to her advantage at Alexander Stadium?

James Ball (para-cycling - Wales)

Welsh Para-cyclist James Ball already has two silver medals from the Commonwealth Games, but he will be hoping to stand on the top step four years on.

The visually impaired 31-year-old will re-ignite his on-track rivalry with Scotland’s Neil Fachie, who beat him to gold in both the tandem B sprint and kilo at the 2018 Commonwealth, as well as in the 1,000m time trial at the Tokyo Paralympics.

But the gold medals at the World Championship level have yo-yoed between the pair, with Ball taking sprint gold and Fachie kilo gold at the last edition in 2020.

Ball will be piloted by Matt Rotherham in Birmingham, who was Fachie’s pilot in Tokyo and on the Gold Coast in 2018.

Duncan Scott (swimming - Scotland)

Duncan Scott wrote his name in the history books last summer when he became the first British athlete to win four medals at a single Olympic Games with his gold and three silvers.

Multiple medals are the Scottish swimmer’s specialty - he brought home six from the 2018 Commonwealths in Australia - but his build-up to this year’s Games hasn’t been smooth sailing after he was forced to pull out of June’s World Championships with issues in his Covid-19 recovery.

He faces tough competition in Birmingham from England’s Tom Dean, who became the new name on everyone’s lips in 2021 when he won double gold at the Olympics, just a couple of months after winning six medals at the European Championships.

The pair are expected to go head-to-head in six events at the Sandwell Aquatics Centre, but is there actually a rivalry between them?

“We’re just good mates - there’s nothing else to it really,” said Scott.

Bethany Firth (para-swimming - Northern Ireland)

Such is Bethany Firth’s desire to win Commonwealth Games gold, she has delayed her honeymoon in order to put her everything into winning the one major title missing from her collection.

Birmingham will be the first time Firth’s main event - the S14 200m freestyle - has been included in the Commonwealth Games.

The 26-year-old already has six Paralympic golds and three European titles and won five golds at June’s World Para-swimming Championships in Madeira.

“This is definitely the one that is missing,” Firth said of a Commonwealth gold medal. “I cannot lie, it is in my head pretty much every day.”

England’s Jessica-Jane Applegate won five medals in Madeira, and will compete against Firth in the S14 200m freestyle - the event in which she was crowned Paralympic champion at London 2012.

Geraint Thomas & Elinor Barker (cycling - Wales)

Fresh from finishing third at the Tour de France, Geraint Thomas will swap his Ineos Grenadiers jersey for that of Team Wales as he prepares to compete in both the road race and time trial at his first Commonwealth Games since 2014.

On that occasion, he won time trial bronze and road race gold - becoming the first Welshman to win a Commonwealth Games cycling title.

Eight years on, Thomas knows the men’s 160km road race course isn’t ideal for his chances. But he said: “So much can happen in a Commonwealth Games”.

As for two-time Olympic medallist Elinor Barker, the Commonwealths mark her return to major championships cycling after giving birth to her son, Nico, in March.

Barker won points race gold four years ago but will focus on the women’s 112km road race in Warwick. “It feels like a win to be selected this time around,” she said.