England success is spotlighting women’s sports at Comm Games

Sports

BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) — A week after the Lionesses became the pride of England for winning the Women’s European Championship, their compatriots in field hockey are hoping for their own historic moment in Birmingham.

England has claimed a women’s hockey medal in the six previous Commonwealth Games but gold has proven elusive. A thrilling victory over New Zealand in the semifinals on Friday has given the English another chance to end the drought. They will face four-time champion Australia in Sunday’s final.

Their success is a bonus for Commonwealth officials who have placed an emphasis on highlighting women’s sport, with a priority on three major team finals to be staged on Sunday.

Branded Super Sunday by organizers, gold medals from the women’s cricket, hockey and netball finals will all be decided on the penultimate day of the competition.

It comes a week after England defeated Germany 2-1 at Wembley last Sunday in a soccer final that drew a crowd of 87,192, the largest ever attendance for a European Championship decider for either sex.

Ticket sales for women’s sports in Birmingham have also been strong.

Organizers reported more than 160,000 tickets have been sold for the cricket at Edgbaston Stadium alone, making it the biggest drawing women’s tournament in history.

England is a live medal chance in all three events and former netball captain Ama Agbeze is hopeful the run of success will draw more girls and women to sport.

A member of the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games Board, Agbeze led England to a gold medal in Australia four years ago and is delighted by the prominence given to women’s sport throughout the 12-day competition.

“The Women’s Euro was an incredible competition and the Commonwealth Games is just piggybacking off that success and atmosphere and just continuing on with it,” she said.

“It was great foresight of the organizers of the Games to put women’s Super Sunday on with all those sports and it was great the women’s football team won, because they have basically played into the whole narrative of increasing the profile of women’s sports. Hopefully it just increases from here.”

England’s hockey team has done its part. With Maddie Hinch tending goal superbly, the host edged defending champion New Zealand 2-0 in a penalty shootout at the University of Birmingham to reach the decider.

Both teams were held goalless in regular play but Hannah Martin was able to secure the victory by scoring England’s second goal in the shootout from four attempts.

Hinch said she thrived on the pressure of goalkeeping and believes Sunday presents an opportunity for her team to show young girls again why field hockey is exciting to play and watch.

“It is really important in those moments to lap it up. I was like, ‘Madds, this is what you dreamed of as a young child,’ and if it did not work out, it did not work out,” she told the BBC.

“Women’s sport is in a great place right now, but this is our chance to showcase the sport that we love.”

In the other semi, Australia beat India 3-0 in the shootout after they finished regulation play 1-1.

England’s netballers will play Australia in a semifinal on Saturday, and the nation’s cricketers face New Zealand for a spot in the decider.

In other highlights on Friday, India enjoyed success in wrestling when Deepak Punia, Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik all claimed gold medals.

Malik, who won the women’s 62-kilogram class, said the support provided by the strong Indian community who live in Birmingham helped her succeed.

She edged Canadian Ana Godinez Gonzalez in the final.

“It was amazing to have a crowd presence of this kind,” she said. “At the Tokyo Olympics, there weren’t many Indians … so for a wrestler, it’s amazing to have that presence.

“And then to be trailing at one point and to come back, the crowd played a huge part in getting me to where I wanted to be, which was right on top of the podium.”

George Miller became the oldest Commonwealth Games gold medallist when, at the age of 75, he acted as the director for visually impaired Scottish bowler Melanie Inness. His grandchildren watched from the stands as Miller assisted the para-mixed bowls combination to a 16-9 victory over Wales in the final.

“Bowls is quite easy for older people but any sport, (be it) walking, football, rugby, you name it, get out there (and) exercise. Play games,” he said. “Competing is brilliant, whatever age you are.”

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