Hayden Wilde set to spark NZ’s Commonwealth Games medal pursuit in Birmingham

Hayden Wilde could kick-start New Zealand’s Commonwealth Games campaign with a thrilling victory over one of the host nation’s biggest stars on the opening day of competition.

The triathlete is one of the first Kiwis in action in Birmingham on Friday (UK time) when he seeks to claim gold, with his major rival expected to be England’s Alex Yee.

Wilde won bronze in the men’s sprint triathlon at last year’s Tokyo Olympics, with Yee pipping him for silver in a frantic finish.

The 24-year-old from Whakatāne has gone from strength to strength since the Olympics to emerge as a constant threat on the world circuit and will be full of confidence for the 750-meter swim, 20km cycle and 5km run race.

He and Yee have traded victories with superlative performances over the past year and should go head-to-head for gold.

Wilde will be aiming to keep close to the leaders on the opening swim, his weakest leg, then reveal his prowess on the cycle leg before hot-footing it with Yee, who is a superb runner.

New Zealand's Hayden Wilde celebrates winning a bronze medal with silver medalist Alex Yee of Great Britain in the men's sprint triathlon at the Tokyo Olympics last year.

Bryan Keane / Inpho via Photosport

New Zealand’s Hayden Wilde celebrates winning a bronze medal with silver medalist Alex Yee of Great Britain in the men’s sprint triathlon at the Tokyo Olympics last year.

Tayler Reid and Dylan McCullough will also compete in the men’s event for NZ with an eye on the medals, while Nicole van der Kaay is expected to lead the charge for the NZ women later in the day against a field which includes defending and Olympic champion Flora Duffy of Bermuda.

Dame Sophie Pascoe will also be seeking to add to her vast medal collection when she contests her only event of the Games on Friday (UK time).

Dame Sophie Pascoe will seek to add to her vast medal collection on day one of the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

Alex Pantling / Getty Images

Dame Sophie Pascoe will seek to add to her vast medal collection on day one of the 2022 Commonwealth Games.

The 29-year-old, who has battled with Covid-19 in her preparation for the swim meet, will compete in the women’s S9 100m freestyle along with fellow NZ team member Tupou Neiufi, with a trio of Australians and Scotland’s Toni Shaw set to test Pascoe, who already has four Commonwealth Games golds to go with her 19 Paralympics medals.

Also in competition on day one for NZ will be the women’s and men’s rugby sevens teams, defending women’s hockey champions the Black Sticks, the track cyclists, lawn bowlers, gymnasts and boxer Emile Richardson.

Birmingham appears to have received the Games with anticipation and participation from the community – posters and promotional material for the event are ubiquitous in the city and surrounds and organisers are predicting it will attract more spectators than any other Commonwealth Games.

England’s second-most populous city will always pale in comparison to London and while ‘The Venice of the North’ may be an incredibly optimistic marketing slogan, the 56km of canals around Birmingham make a pleasant backdrop to the event.

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