Commonwealth Games 2014: Illawarra elite are bound for glory

Madeline Heiner. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

Madeline Heiner. Picture: KIRK GILMOUR

Bring your #welovethegong shirt, hockey talent Tristan White reminded runner Ryan Gregson. The Twitter banter between  Bulli’s Gregson and Wollongong’s White this week was a light-hearted reflection of their pride at representing the Illawarra at the Commonwealth Games. They are among a select group of Australian athletes to come from the South Coast to wear the green and gold in Glasgow.  With competition starting on Wednesday night, Mercury sports editor Tim Barrow analyses the medal prospects of each of the Illawarra’s talented athletes.

■ MADELINE HEINER

From: Thirroul

Age: 27

Event: 3000m steeplechase

Level of expectation: Heiner's qualification for the Commonwealth Games is remarkable. An Australian world junior titles representative as a 16-year-old, Heiner gave athletics away at age 18 because of persistent soreness in her knee. Now she will compete in Glasgow in an event she only dabbled in until recently. "I want a really big PB [in Glasgow] and wherever that places me I'm happy with," Heiner said.

Form line: Heiner nailed a personal best of 9:36.31 last weekend, but is still more than three seconds behind Australian counterpart Genevieve LaCaze's best and 17 seconds outside the Commonwealth Games record.

Prediction: Expect another PB in the heats.

■ RYAN GREGSON

From: Bulli

Age: 24

Event: 1500m athletics

Level of expectation: At the peak of his powers, Gregson was forced to withdraw from the Delhi Commonwealth Games in 2010 because of a stress fracture in his foot.

He had already set the national 1500m record and was poised to capture a medal. After missing out on the final at the London Olympics, Gregson's form is steadily improving, as is his belief. Qualified with a time of 3:36.17 at a meet in the US.

Form line: Finished second to Jeff Riseley after very limited preparation at national titles. He hasn't recovered his 2010 best, but is now an experienced campaigner capable of matching it with the best in the Commonwealth and the world.

Prediction: Will make the final.

Kieran Govers. Picture: REUTERS

Kieran Govers. Picture: REUTERS

■ KIERAN GOVERS

From: Albion Park

Age: 26

Event: Hockey

Level of expectation: Gold. Govers is a dual World Cup and three-time Champions Trophy winner, as well as taking home the bronze medal at the London Olympics. In Glasgow, their arch-rivals Germany and the Netherlands won't be competing. India will be Australia's biggest threat in the pool games, while England and New Zealand are likely to be waiting in the finals.

Form line: Take a look at the YouTube clip of Govers's stunning goal in the World Cup final, as Australia thrashed the Netherlands 6-1 last month. Enough said. It would be a shock if the Kookaburras do not win gold.

Prediction: Gold.

■ TRISTAN WHITE

From: Wollongong

Age: 24

Event: Hockey

Level of expectation: White is a rising star of Australian hockey, who has already gained experience at the highest level as part of the Kookaburras's Champions Trophy in 2012. A talented midfielder with excellent stick skills and vision, White is part of Australia's next generation of talent with a view to playing at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016.

Form line: White has played 29 games for Australia and is on the path to becoming a huge asset for the Kookaburras in the post-Jamie Dwyer and Ric Charlesworth era. A gold medal along the way is an important next step in his career.

Prediction: Gold.

■ CASEY EASTHAM

From: Albion Park

Age: 25

Event: Hockey

Level of expectation: Eastham is now an entrenched senior member of the team, after winning a gold medal in Delhi in 2010 and playing at the London and Beijing Olympics. In London, Eastham declared the Hockeyroos squad was on a strategic path to capture gold at the 2016 Olympics. At the Commonwealth Games they will face England in their group, while New Zealand are likely final opponents.

Form line: The Hockeyroos showed they are once again an international force to be reckoned with after making the World Cup final, where they lost to the Netherlands 2-0. Will be a fierce battle with England and New Zealand for gold.

Prediction: Gold.

Mark Lucas. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

Mark Lucas. Picture: ANDY ZAKELI

■ MARK LUCAS

From: Shellharbour

Age: 25

Event: Boxing

Level of expectation: Talking to the Mercury in April, Lucas summed up what he wants to take from the Commonwealth Games. "All I think about is going to Glasgow and getting gold," Lucas said. "Winning's become a culture for me. I won't accept anything less and that's what's changed for me."

Form line: Lucas is packing a punch in his bid to win gold, after beating major rival, the Scottish No 1 Kieran Smith, in the Sting Cup tournament - which pitted both nations against each other - in Canberra in his final pre-Games tune-up.

Prediction: Gold or silver.

■ KAREN MURPHY

From: Shell Cove

Age: 39

Event: Lawn bowls

Level of expectation: Murphy's decorated career continues in pursuit of more medal success as part of the women's triples and fours teams in Glasgow. The world champion of champions last year, Murphy won gold in the pairs at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne, plus silver in 2002 (singles) and 1998 (fours). She was controversially snubbed for selection at the Delhi Games in 2010 and while approaching a record 500 international appearances, she will be chasing more medals in Glasgow.

Form line: Last April, Murphy missed out on the World Cup semi-finals at Warilla, but at age 39 still made the five-women Australian Glasgow squad and remains one of the world's best players.

Prediction: Expect a medal.

Emma and David McKeon.  Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

Emma and David McKeon. Picture: SYLVIA LIBER

■ EMMA McKEON

From: Wollongong

Age: 20

Event: 100m, 200m freestyle, relays.

Level of expectation: In the past 12 months McKeon has emerged as a genuine star of the pool. After missing out on qualification for London in 2012, she is the hot favourite in the 200m freestyle event and a contender for the 100m. Could win a swag of medals.

Form line: In France this month, McKeon clocked 1:55.68 in the 200m, more than 1.5s quicker than the Commonwealth record.

She was also close to beating Olympic champion Ranomi Kromowidjojo, of the Netherlands, in a 100m freestyle final.

Prediction: A gold rush.

■ DAVID McKEON

From: Wollongong

Age: 21

Event: 200m, 400m freestyle, relays

Level of expectation: McKeon's rise to international prominence is remarkable.

After only starting to compete in 2010, Dave qualified for the London Olympics, but missed out on the finals.

He is a three-time 400m national champion, but has risen to another level and is the leading 400m freestyle contender for Australia.

Form line: McKeon's best time is more than three seconds outside the Commonwealth Games record, but then again, it's held by the great Ian Thorpe.

Prediction: 400m and relay gold.

■ RYAN BAILIE

From: Wollongong

Age: 24

Event: Triathlon

Level of expectation: South African-born Bailie is 11th on the world triathlon rankings this year after competing at four events. Standing in the way of Bailie and a medal is his good mate Aaron Royle and the Brownlee brothers, the phenomenal English duo who have been dominant forces on the international scene.

Form line: Bailie was fifth in the international event in Auckland in April, but even then was fourth of Commonwealth Games entrants behind Brownlee, Royle and fellow Aussie Dan Wilson.

Prediction: Top-10 finish.

Novocastrian triathlete Aaron Royle.

Novocastrian triathlete Aaron Royle.

■ AARON ROYLE

From: Wollongong

Age: 24

Event: Triathlon

Level of expectation: From Newcastle, but based in Wollongong, Royle is rated as Australia's next superstar and considered a genuine gold medal chance in two years at the Rio Olympics. By that time, his development may have reached the point where can beat the Brownlee brothers - Alistair and Jonny - and Spaniard Javier Gomez-Noya. He can make a statement against the English duo at the Commonwealth Games.

Form line: Royle has finished third in Auckland and sixth in Cape Town this year but more recent form suggests bronze is his most realistic medal chance.

Prediction: Bronze.

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