Medals in the making

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Sydney University will be represented by 14 athletes in the big Australian contingent assembled for the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, starting on Thursday.

They include six Sydney University Athletic Club members who made finals and semi-finals at the just-completed World Athletic Championships at Eugene, Oregon, in the US. And of the 14, two are on the Sydney Uni Sport Elite Athlete Program, and 10 others are EAP alumni.

The Sydney University contingent includes Mackenzie Little who made the final in the women’s javelin at the World Championships; Nicola Olyslager (McDermott), who made the final of the women’s high jump; and hurdlers Michelle Jenneke and Nicholas Hough, who made the respective women’s and men’s semi-finals.

Other Sydney University athletes in the Australian team at Birmingham include legendary Para-athlete Angela Ballard, sprinter Rohan Browning, swimmers Jenna Strauch and William Yang, Hockeyroo Greta Hayes, cyclist Alyssa Polites, pole-vaulter Angus Armstrong, Para-athlete Sarah Clifton-Bligh, Para-basketballer Hannah Dodd and Wrestler Jayden Lawrence.

Tokyo Olympic women’s high jump silver medallist Olyslager is a podium contender at Birmingham, having won bronze at the Gold Coast Games in 2018. The Bachelor of Science (Biochemistry) graduate held the Australian record until the recent World Championships when fellow Aussie Eleanor Patterson unleashed a 2.2m jump to claim gold and set a new Australian record. Olyslager broke the 2m barrier last year and has a 2.2m jump on her radar.

Sprinter Rohan Browning, a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws student, is backing up from the 2021 Tokyo Olympics, where he won his heat in the 100m with a PB 10.01 to earn a berth in the semi-final. He also competed at the 2018 Commonwealth Games when he ran 10.26.

Jenna Strauch came to attention in 2019 when she won the Australian 200m women’s breaststroke title. She recorded a PB of 2:23.18 in winning the event at the 2021 Australian Trials, which qualified her for the Tokyo Olympics, where she placed 9th overall. She has a busy program at Birmingham, competing in the 200m, 100m and 50m breaststroke events.

Angela Ballard is no stranger to international competition, having competed at six Para-Games. The Bachelor of Science (Honours) graduate is competing in her fourth Commonwealth Games and hopes to better her silver medal in the 1500m T54 on the Gold Coast in 2018.

Greta Hayes is a Sydney University Hockey Club member and an alumnus of the Elite Athlete Program. Having made her debut for the Hockeyroos at the 2018 Champions Trophy in China, Greta is one of 12 debutantes in the Commonwealth Games women’s squad.

Javelin star Mackenzie Little, a current Doctor of Medicine student and member of the Sydney University Athletics Club, threw 63.18m to win this year’s Oceania title, standing her in good stead for a podium finish at Birmingham.

Swimmer William Yang, a Bachelor of Design in Architecture student, swam a PB 48.55s to claim the Australian 100m title at the 2022 Championships in Adelaide, putting him in medal contention in Birmingham. 

Hurdler Michelle Jenneke, a three-time Commonwealth Games athlete, is coming back from injury. The Bachelor of Engineering graduate is aiming to improve on her 2018 Games effort when she finished fourth in the 100m hurdles, falling just short of the podium berth.

Another hurdler also making a third Commonwealth Games appearance is Nicholas Hough, a Bachelor of Information Technology graduate. He’s hoping to improve on his bronze medal effort from the 2018 Games when he posted a time of 13.38s for the men’s 110m event.

Alyssa Polites is a member of the Sydney University Staminade Club. After a winning performance at the Women’s Under 23 Road Race in January this year, Alyssa secured a spot in the road racing team for the Commonwealth Games. At just 19 years of age, this will be Alyssa’s first time competing at the Games.

Pole vaulter Angus Armstrong is backing up for his second Commonwealth Games. He made the final in the Gold Coast in 2018 and has been on the improve ever since, posting a PB of 5.65m in March 2020 before the outbreak of CovidD-19. That leap was 15cm shy of fellow Australian Steven Hooker’s Games record.

Rising Para-athlete star Sarah Clifton-Bligh has dabbled in both track and field events but focused on wheelchair racing in the T33 classification in the past two years. She was ranked No.1 in the world in the 100m T33 event in 2021 after clocking a time under 24 seconds. Sarah will make her Commonwealth Games debut in Birmingham.

In her previous sporting life, Para-basketballer Hannah Dodd was an elite equestrian rider, the top-ranked Australian in her event and class. In 2012 she competed at the London Games and finished just outside the top 10 in each of her two events. Hannah was born with sacral agenesis and spina bifida with upper limb dystonia and learnt to ride a horse before she could walk. She’s now a member of the Australian Gliders women’s wheelchair basketball side and attending her first Commonwealth Games.

Wrestler Jayden Lawrence competes in the men’s freestyle 86kg class and has the ambition of winning a medal at Birmingham and earning selection for the next Olympic Games.

Follow the efforts of these athletes when the Commonwealth Games begin on Thursday.