Hockey player Anita Punt is one of the athletes who will represent Nelson and New Zealand at the Commonwealth Games this month.

Commonwealth Games draws closer for Nelson athletes

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A record contingent of Nelson athletes will represent New Zealand at the Commonwealth Games, and the countdown to Glasgow is nearly up with the event just over a week away.

Cyclist George Bennett has already been ruled out after sustaining an injury in a crash last month, but ten others from Nelson will be wearing the silver fern in Glasgow, some for the first time.

The Nelson contingent is; Anita Punt (hockey), Julian Matthews (athletics), Amy Mcilory (lawn bowls), Shannon Mcilroy (lawn bowls), Jo Edwards (lawn bowls), Val Smith (lawn bowls), Bryce Heem (rugby sevens), Shannon Francois (netball), Mark Brewer (judo) and Jack Bauer (cycling).

1500m runner Julian Matthews, a former Nelson College student, will be one of those competing at the Commonwealth Games for the first time. Speaking via email from the Athletics NZ athlete’s base in Cardiff, Julian says reality has finally sunk in that he will be competing at the Games. “It’s taken a while to sink in, but it has now – I arrived at the Athletics NZ athlete’s base here in Cardiff a couple of days ago and being around all the other team members has made it more of a reality for me. I’m really looking forward to getting my uniform and being able to try on that black singlet, while trying to keep the pressure of the event at bay for a bit longer, of course,” he says.

Julian will be targeting a place in the 1500m final and will “see what happens” from there. “The 1500 is such an exciting race, it really comes down to the day and tactics, you never know what will happen.”

Coming from a “very sport-orientated” family, Julian has always dreamt of someday representing New Zealand since picking up athletics as a 13 year old. “To be able to compete at the Commonwealth Games is such an honour – I am so excited to be able to represent my country at an international event, and especially one that is close to so many Kiwis’ hearts.”

Nelson’s best hopes of a gold medal, outside of the rugby sevens team, lie with veteran bowlers Jo and Val. Jo won a gold medal in the pairs in 2002, while Val finished second in the singles in 2010. The duo, who are good mates off the green, are teaming up in the pairs this year and have a proven track record at international events.

The next best prospect is Anita and the women’s Black Sticks hockey team. Anita, who is one of the most experienced players in the team with 155 caps, has been scoring for fun in recent internationals and was part of the squad which won a silver medal in Dehli.

Amy and Shannon have the unique story of being husband and wife, as well as members of the New Zealand lawn bowls team. When she was named in the squad to attend her first Commonwealth Games, Amy said she just wanted to make her family proud. “My biggest thing is definitely doing this for my family, and my mum and dad are coming over to watch.”

An eleventh Nelson athlete will compete in the games, but he won’t be wearing a silver fern. Former Makos number eight Mark Bright, now 35 years old, has gained selection in the England rugby sevens team.

The Commonwealth Games begin July 23.

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