Opinion: Winners, losers of 2022 Birmingham Commonwealth Games

OPINION: A record haul of gold medals and the most medals won by New Zealand outside of Aotearoa would suggest a pretty good return from the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

As always, there were plenty of new heroes for Kiwis to celebrate and plenty of disappointments for us to come to terms with.

Here are some of the highs and lows of the last couple of weeks:

Winner: Lewis Clareburt

As a nation, New Zealand doesn't understand how difficult it is to be competitive as a swimmer - never mind a genuine medal contender.

But Lewis Clareburt was every bit that and more in Birmingham, taking home three medals for his efforts, two of them gold.

A year on from seventh and eighth-placed finishes at the Tokyo Olympics, Clareburt showed his star was on the rise at Birmingham, coming away with gold over 400m individual medley and 200m butterfly.

Lewis Clareburt celebrates victory at Birmingham
Lewis Clareburt celebrates victory at Birmingham. Photo credit: Photosport

At just 23, Clareburt still has plenty of development to come as a swimmer, but will surely have Paris 2024 circled on his calendar.

Imagine what Clareburt could accomplish if the New Zealand swimming programme was as well funded as some others...

Loser: Silver Ferns

A bronze medal at the Commonwealth Gold is nothing to scoff at for the Silver Ferns, but this is more about the 'how' than the 'what'.

While the Silver Ferns' gold medal chances were ended by tournament darlings Jamaica, several key selections for the semi-final match-up were perplexing at best. 

Dame Noeline Taurua has been one of the most important figures in New Zealand netball to date, but even her loyalist devotees were scratching their heads when it came to seeing the side that took to the court.

Grace Nweke in action for the Silver Ferns at Birmingham
Grace Nweke in action for the Silver Ferns at Birmingham. Photo credit: Photosport

The pair of Grace Nweke and Kelly Jury were both left on the sidelines to start against the 'Sunshine Girls', and both introduced when the gulf had become too large to overcome.

Not to mention players like Tiana Metuarau, Maddy Gordon and Kimiara Poi, who weren't selected, after putting their hands up in the ANZ Premiership, and leaving out captain Ameliaranne Ekenasio for fitness reasons, despite her experience in big tournaments.

At the end of the day, the Commonwealth Games might just be the wake-up call before next year's World Cup - as it was in 2018 - but surely those lessons were learned on the Gold Coast.

Winner: White Ferns

In all honesty, Birmingham seemed like one tournament too early for a White Ferns side beginning their rebuild under new coach Ben Sawyer.

Not even 12 months on from the disappointment of the home World Cup failure, a newish-looking White Ferns outfit showed that things might not be as bleak as feared for the women's game in New Zealand.

Sophie Devine celebrates the White Ferns' bronze
Sophie Devine celebrates the White Ferns' bronze. Photo credit: Photosport

Excellently led by Sophie Devine, and backed up by the evergreen Suzie Bates and Lea Tahuhu, the White Ferns ended hosts England's hopes of a medal, as cricket returned to the Commonwealth Games.

Devine admitted the team had hoped for gold, but the relief was clear at just reaching the podium. 

Loser: All Blacks & Black Ferns Sevens

It hasn't been a good few months for New Zealand rugby.

Even with the All Blacks' woes, only a brave soul would have predicted neither the All Blacks Sevens nor Black Ferns Sevens would even reach the gold-medal match - but that's exactly what happened.

Both teams were beaten in the semi-finals and had to settle for bronze, as the defence of both Gold Coast gold from four years ago petered out.

Australia celebrate their victory over Black Ferns Sevens at Birmingham
Australia celebrate their victory over Black Ferns Sevens at Birmingham. Photo credit: Photosport

Labelling bronze a failure may seem harsh, but the New Zealand sevens programme has been nothing short of world class for decades.

With the Rugby World Cup Sevens scheduled for South Africa later this year, both Kiwi outfits will have the chance to bounce back sooner rather than later.

Winner: Cycling New Zealand

The issues within Cycling New Zealand have been widely reported over the past year, but after the calls for change were heard, Birmingham was exactly what the programme needed to show its worth.

Of the 19 gold medals won by New Zealand, 10 of those came from cycling, with Aaron Gate's four and Ellesse Andrews' three among them.

Aaron Gate celebrates his road race victory at Birmingham
Aaron Gate celebrates his road race victory at Birmingham. Photo credit: Photosport

Only swimming gets close to the scale of gold won by our cyclists, with five gold medals from the pool.

Here's hoping Cycling New Zealand will continue to produce as many special moments as we've seen over the last few weeks.

Loser: Boxing

Admittedly not helped by the unavailability of David Nyika, the Kiwi boxing side only managed to bring home one medal, compared to the five won at Gold Coast.

Bronze to men's super-heavyweight Ulia Mau'u was a fantastic reward, considering defeat came at the hands of eventual champion - and amazingly named - Delicious Orie, but it doesn't take away from the fact New Zealand underperformed. 

Leuila Mau'u on his way to quarter-final victory at Birmingham
Leuila Mau'u on his way to quarter-final victory at Birmingham. Photo credit: Photosport

Of the eight fighters sent to Birmingham, only four reached the quarter-finals, with only Mau'u progressing for a shot at a medal.

Boxing's place at global events does always feel undermined by the fact professionals aren't allowed to compete, 

Winner: Paul Coll

Four years ago, Paul Coll left the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games with a silver and bronze medal. He's leaving Birmingham with two golds.

The Kiwi has gone from strength to strength in recent years and made no secret about his desire to win gold for his country.

And Coll did just that, taking out the men's singles and then going again to bring home the mixed doubles with Joelle King.

Paul Coll in action at Birmingham
Paul Coll in action at Birmingham. Photo credit: Photosport

Two Commonwealth Games gold medals to go with his two British Open titles give Coll an impressive trophy cabinet, and as a contender for squash's world No.1 ranking, there's still more to come from the Greymouth native.

Loser: The official who penalised Hayden Wilde

Seriously? What possible advantage could Hayden Wilde have gained from unclipping his helmet early?

Jokes aside, this was the ultimate sour note to begin our Birmingham campaign and felt like a massive home decision in favour of England's eventual winner, Alex Yee.

Hayden Wilde serves his penalty at the Birmingham triathlon
Hayden Wilde serves his penalty at the Birmingham triathlon. Photo credit: Photosport

Wilde himself didn't hold back in his assessment of the decision and has appealed the decision.

If that appeal is successful, there's a chance his prospects could be upgraded from silver to gold, but the 24-year-old was denied his moment of glory.

Alex Powell is a Newshub online sports producer