Tasmanian sporting planets align in Queensland

Screen shots: The Commonwealth Games forced gold medal-winning Tasmanians like Rebecca Van Asch and Jake Birtwhistle to brush up on their interview technique. Pictures: Rob Shaw
Screen shots: The Commonwealth Games forced gold medal-winning Tasmanians like Rebecca Van Asch and Jake Birtwhistle to brush up on their interview technique. Pictures: Rob Shaw

When Tasmania confirmed a contribution of 16 athletes for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, the challenge was on to match record quantity with record quality.

Having nearly doubled its previous highest quota, could it do the same for its medal count?

The three gold, two silver and two bronze medals brought back from Melbourne in 2006 “represented almost as big a diversity of valuable elements as can be mined in their home state” wrote one handsome young scribe.

Well that's job done then.

Sixteen medals were claimed by those 16 athletes. That’s almost as close as it is possible to get to averaging a medal each.

Not only is that return a phenomenal medal-to-human ratio for a state with a population of just half a million, but the 10 gold medals (with men’s hockey and basketball providing two each for the state) would place Tasmania eighth on the final medal table if the Commonwealth Games Association were to take a more liberal approach than most domestic Australian sporting codes and recognise it as a nation in its own right.

That’s more golds than Scotland, Nigeria, Kenya or Jamaica. Take that Usain.

The signs were there that this could be a good Games for Tasmania.

Five of the 16 were already at home to being world champions to some degree, while others were knocking on the door.

“At the risk of tempting fate, Commonwealth rankings place our athletes in a powerful position to push for podiums,” wrote that same dashing young hack.

Jake Birtwhistle, Amy Cure, Ariarne Titmus, Bec Van Asch, Jeremy Edwards and Eddie Ockenden had already proved themselves on the world stage and appeared primed to perform at Commonwealth level.

What was perhaps most surprising is that not just one or two but all of them did just that, some multiple times.

In what became increasingly difficult to remember as the Games rolled on, the state’s final honour role read 10 gold (Titmus three, Cure two, Van Asch two, Birtwhistle, Edwards and Ockenden in the hockey plus Lucas Walker and Chris Goulding in the basketball) and four silver (Titmus, Birtwhistle, Kaity Fassina and Hamish Peacock).

Tackling a daunting schedule of seven races in six days, Titmus came within 0.04 seconds of completing a perfect program - that being the margin by which fellow 17-year-old Taylor Ruck, of Canada, won the 200m before the Launceston teenage freestyle sensation added the 400m, 800m and overtook Ruck to anchor home the 4x200m.

Van Asch went one better. Facing a mammoth 14 matches, the Launceston lawn bowler and her teammates won all 14 - the final quartet of matches in the fours by a combined winning margin of just six.

Even 11th-hour call-up Walker left with a gold medal around his neck.

Apart from stocky sprinter Jack Hale finishing fourth and sinewy stayer Stewy McSweyn fifth on the Carrara track, there were few near misses.

Contrast that to the London Olympics where Tasmanians came fourth as obediently as John when instructed by the Lord.

It is also worth remembering how fortune favoured Tasmania in Queensland while it did the opposite in Brazil.

But for Natasha Scott’s sublime last-ditch drive against Canada and Australia’s last-gasp defending when effectively down three men to England in bowls and hockey semi-finals respectively, both Aussie teams would have been playing for bronze rather than gold.

Contrast that to the Rio Olympics where if there was a crash or calamity to be had, Tasmanian competitors were falling over each other to oblige.

Tasmania’s sporting planets truly aligned in Queensland over the last fortnight.

It was somehow fitting that the same state which so famously ignored its island sibling in an opening ceremony the last time it hosted the Commonwealth Games should provide the stage for its record performance.