Birmingham Commonwealth Games: Highflying Kiwis storm medal table on golden opening day

New Zealand have rocketed out of the Commonwealth Game starting blocks to sit second on the medal table after the opening day of competition at Birmingham.

After triathlete Hayden Wilde incurred a controversial time penalty to dip out on gold, our track cyclists more than made up for the disappointment, with the men's pursuit and women's sprint combinations storming to victory at the velodrome.

To cap off the celebrations, Dame Sophie Pascoe's fifth gold medal - for victory in the 100m freestyle S9 - equalled the most by a Kiwi at the Commonwealth Games, held by shot put/discus thrower Val Young.   

NZ women's team pursuit celebrate their hardwon silver medals at Birmingham
NZ women's team pursuit celebrate their hardwon silver medals at Birmingham. Photo credit: Getty

The medal haul - three gold, three silver and a bronze - has New Zealand trailling only Australia (eight) for gold, but also behind England (nine) for total medals, and ahead of traditional powerhouse Canada (one gold, four medals) early.

Before Birmingham, New Zealand sat fifth on the all-time medal table, behind Australia, England, Canada and India, who have more gold medals (181-159), but less total medals (503-657). India's most successful sport - shooting - does not feature at these Games. 

New Zealand's most successful Games were Auckland 1990, where they captured 17 gold, 14 silver and 27 silver to finish fourth on the medal table. Our best finish was third at Auckland 1950 and Perth 1962.

The men's pursuit team of Aaron Gate, Campbell Stewart, Jordan Kerby and Tom Sexton made up for last year's Olympic disappointment, when Gate crashed out of the bronze-medal ride against Australia, after bettering the world record in qualifying.

Birmingham Commonwealth Games: Highflying Kiwis storm medal table on golden opening day

This time, they were fastest qualifiers and went on to clock a Games record 3m 47.575s, beating England in the final.

The women's sprint team of Rebecca Petch, Olivia King and Ellesse Andrews were even more dominant, beating the Games record in qualifying, watching it fall to Wales in the bronze-medal ride, then reclaiming it with 47.425s to head Canada in the final.

Apart from the golds, the other Kiwi medallists at Birmingham were:

  • Silver for Wilde, who was slapped with a 10-second time penalty for allegedly unbuckling his helmet before racking his bike in the cycle/run transition. Replays suggest this was a tough call and he may yet protest the result, although he still finished 13 seconds behind England's Alex Yee, who ran him down over the 5km run.
  • Silver for para-swimmer Jesse Reynolds, who finished fourth twice at Gold Coast 2018, but finally emerged from a major championship with a medal, behind Aussie Tim Hodge.
  • Silver for the women's pursuit team of Bryony Botha, Emily Shearman, Michaela Drummond and Andrews, although the latter's involvement was merely token. The team lost Ally Wollaston to a pre-Games crash and Andrews simply made up numbers on the start-line, leaving her three teammates to battle gamely for their medals.
  • Bronze for the men's sprint team of Sam Webster, Sam Dakin and Bradly Knipe, a relatively new combination, after the trio of Webster/Ethan Mitchell/Eddie Dawkins dominated the event international for almost a decade.

Other prime medal prospects also furthered their clams on opening day.

  • The Blacksticks women - defending hockey gold medallists from four years ago - overwhelmed Kenya 16-0 to begin their campaign. They face Scotland on Sunday morning (NZ time). 
Jesse Reynolds starts his backstroke final at Birmingham
Jesse Reynolds starts his backstroke final at Birmingham. Photo credit: Photosport
  • The All Blacks Sevens and Black Ferns Sevens, also defending their crowns from Gold Coast, emerged unscathed from their opening pool matches, although the men needed a 12-0 second half to edge Samoa. The women lost tryscoring ace Portia Woodman to injury early in their opener against Canada, so fingers crossed she can return later in the tournament. They both face England in their final pool matches on Saturday night.
  • The world champion Silver Ferns began their quest for redemption with a 79-20 drubbing of Northern Ireland, with coach Dame Noeline Taurua mixing up her combinations early. The NZ women disappointed at Gold Coast, missing the final for the first time and missing out on a medal.

On the second day of competition, New Zealand's best medal hopes will again be at the velodrome and the pool. Our cyclists chase individual honours over the kierin and pursuit, while medley specialist Lewis Clareburt will try to improve on his Gold Coast bronze medley.

Join us at 7pm Saturday for live updates of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games