England’s success draws attention to women’s sport at the Comm Games

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

England have won a medal in women’s hockey at the six previous Commonwealth Games, but gold has proved elusive. A thrilling victory over New Zealand in the semi-finals on Friday gave England another chance to end the drought. They will face four-time champions Australia in Sunday’s final.

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

Dubbed Super Sunday by the organisers, the gold medals for the women’s cricket, hockey and netball finals will be decided on the penultimate day of competition.

It comes a week after England beat Germany 2-1 at Wembley last Sunday in a football final that attracted a crowd of 87,192, the biggest ever attendance at a European Championship decider for either gender.

Ticket sales for women’s sport in Birmingham were also strong.

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

England have a live medal chance in all three events and former netball captain Ama Agbeze hopes the run of success will attract more girls and women to the 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 with the importance given to women’s sport during the 12-day competition.

“The Women’s Euros was an amazing competition and the Commonwealth Games just take that success and atmosphere and just build on it,” she said.

“It was great foresight of the Games organizers to put on a Women’s Super Sunday with all these sports and it was great that the women’s football team won because they were basically part of the whole narrative of raising the profile of women’s sport. Hopefully it will only increase from here.”

The English hockey team has done its part. With Maddie Hinch scoring a superb goal, the hosts beat defending champions New Zealand 2-0 on penalties at the University of Birmingham to reach the decider.

Both teams were held scoreless in regular play, but Hannah Martin was able to secure the victory by scoring England’s second penalty goal from four tries.

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

“It’s really important at these times to drink it. I was like, ‘Mads, this is what you dreamed of as a little kid,’ and if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t 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 we love.”

In the other semi-final, Australia defeated India 3–0 on penalties after finishing regular play 1–1.

England’s netballers will play Australia in the semi-finals on Saturday, while the national cricketers face New Zealand for a place in the decider.

In other highlights on Friday, India enjoyed success in wrestling as Deepak Punia, Bajrang Punia and Sakshi Malik picked up gold medals.

Malik, who won the women’s 62kg category, said the support provided by the strong Indian community living in Birmingham helped her succeed.

In the final, she defeated Canadian Ana Godinez Gonzalez.

“It was amazing to have a crowd like that,” she said. “There weren’t many Indians at the Tokyo Olympics…so for a wrestler to have such a presence is amazing.

“And then to fall behind at one point and 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 medalist when, at the age of 75, he took on the role of visually impaired Scottish bowling director Melanie Innes. His grandchildren watched from the stands as Miller assisted the para-mix combination to beat Wales 16-9 in the final.

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

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