Tayla Ford heads Kiwis' medal hopes at Games
It has been 28 years since New Zealand won a wrestling medal at the Commonwealth Games, though there is a confidence among the six-strong team and its supporters that the drought is about to be broken.
The star of the team could well be its youngest member and only woman, Tayla Ford. The 21-year-old from Christchurch is an obvious sporting talent having represented Canterbury at rugby, New Zealand at sevens and judo.
She's seen as New Zealand's best medal hope and even her team-mates recognise her star potential.
"Tayla is an awesome wrestler, she's a freak really," team-mate Sam Belkin said. "I think she's going to be one of the best wrestlers New Zealand has produced in a long time."
Ford finished third at the Commonwealth Championships in December last year, but beat the eventual winner, Nigeria's Adeniyi Aminat. Ford, Adeniyi and India's Geeta Phogat all finished tied for first, but Ford was eventually awarded third on a countback.
And that was fresh off an 18-month enforced layoff courtesy of an ACL reconstruction.
Belkin is also considered a medal prospect. He narrowly missed out on a medal in Delhi in the Greco-Roman category, but has switched to freestyle with the former category ditched from the Games programme.
He finished fifth at the Commonwealth Championships and hopes to push further in Glasgow.
Belkin and the team's biggest member, 125kg Marcus Carney, both spent time in their buildup at the US Olympic training centre where they could train with better and more opponents than they could get at home.
In Scotland they and the other team members, Craig Miller (65kg), Soukananh Thongsinh (61kg) and Stephen Hill (86kg), will come up against some fulltime wrestlers, but New Zealand Wrestling technical director Iain Adamson said the team had the ability to cause a couple of upsets.
"The draw will be important, but I'm hopeful they'll do well. It'll be tough. And for the sport, we'd love a medal, it takes just one medal to give the sport a bit of prominence."
At A Glance
Best gold medal hope: Tayla Ford is the only woman in the six-strong team, but she is also New Zealand's best chance at a gold medal. The pocket rocket finished third at the Commonwealth Championships in South Africa in December.
Best outside medal hope: Big man Marcus Carney will compete in the 125kg class. He and Christchurch's Sam Belkin (97kg) are outside medal chances, but with a favourable draw could do go deep in the three-day meet.
Schedule: July 29-31.
Venue: SECC Precinct
Medal history: New Zealand has won 27 wrestling medals, but none since the last time the Games were in Scotland, 28 years ago. Only three of those medals were gold and all three happened in New Zealand. Douglas Mudgway and John Armitt won gold in 1950 in Auckland while Dave Aspin won at the 1974 Games in Christchurch.
Did you know? Scotland is a happy hunting ground for Kiwi wrestlers. In the two previous Scottish Games, both in Edinburgh, in 1970 and 1986, New Zealand won five of its 27 wrestling medals. Look out for the Indians too at Glasgow, they won 10 of the 21 golds in New Delhi four years ago and 19 medals total on the wrestling mat.
- The Press
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