Commonwealth Games: Gold Coast hosts largest ever Para-sport programme

By Elizabeth HudsonBBC Sport
Tandem pair Neil Fachie & Matt Rotherham and swimmer Ellie Robinson
Fachie & Rotherham will compete in the cycling while Robinson goes for glory in the pool
2018 Commonwealth Games
Venue: Gold Coast, Australia Dates: 4-15 April
Coverage: Watch live on BBC TV and Red Button with extra streams on Connected TVs, BBC Sport website and app; listen on Radio 5 live; follow text updates online. Times and channels

The largest ever Commonwealth Games Para-sport programme gets under way on the Gold Coast on Thursday.

Thirty eight gold medals are up for grabs across seven sports - athletics, track cycling, swimming, powerlifting, table tennis, lawn bowls and - for the first time - triathlon.

Organisers say up to 300 athletes will compete, with 73% more medals on offer compared to Glasgow 2014.

The swimming and athletics programmes have doubled in size, and there is an equal number of men's and women's medals on offer.

Events for athletes with a disability were first included as an exhibition sport at the 1994 Games in Victoria, with athletes fully integrated into their national teams eight years later in Manchester.

The event has been hit by a number of withdrawals, including Paralympic champions Ollie Hynd and Kadeena Cox, but there will still be plenty of stars on show.

Swimmer Hynd, who won gold for England in Glasgow four years ago, was controversially reclassified and opted to pull out of the event while dual star Cox, who was due to compete in the athletics, has a knee injury.

In track cycling, England's Sophie Thornhill and pilot Helen Scott will be hoping to retain the two titles they won in Glasgow.

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The pair triumphed in both the tandem 1km time trial and sprint events, and go to Australia as Paralympic kilo champions and newly crowned double world champions.

Their closest rivals will be Australians Jessica Gallagher and Maddison Janssen, who were second behind Thornhill and Scott at the Worlds.

The favourites in the men's events are newly crowned world champions Neil Fachie and Matt Rotherham. Fachie, from Scotland, won two golds with Craig Maclean in Glasgow.

This time he will ride with Englishman Rotherham. Their closest challenge could come from Wales' James Ball, who will be partnered by another English rider - Pete Mitchell.

At the Carrara Stadium, which will host the athletics, Rio gold medallist Sophie Hahn will be hoping to add the T38 title to her world and Paralympic crowns when she races for England. GB rival Olivia Breen - representing Wales - faces her, and also goes in the T38 long jump as strong favourite.

Scottish wheelchair racer Sammi Kinghorn and sprinter Maria Lyle will be bidding for medals but will face tough competition, primarily from their Australian rivals.

In the pool, Paralympic champions Ellie Robinson and Alice Tai are strong contenders for England, along with Rio silver medallist Tom Hamer, who also took silver four years ago.

Among the Scottish representatives are 14-year-old Toni Shaw, the youngest member of her nation's team at Gold Coast.

While the Games give the lawn bowlers a unique chance to compete in a multi-sport environment, the Para-triathletes will experience a second major debut in two years.

The sport made its Paralympic debut in Rio and will be making its first Commonwealth Games appearance in Australia.

British hopes in the men's and women's categories for wheelchair users are led by dual-sport stars Karen Darke, who won hand-cycling gold in Rio, and will represent Scotland, and England's European champion Jade Jones-Hall, who will also take part in the wheelchair marathon. Former Royal Marine Commando Joe Townsend, who lost both legs serving in Afghanistan in 2008, also competes.

Elsewhere, Ali Jawad - who was born with no legs and must also manage his Crohn's Disease, which causes inflammation of the bowel - will hope to win another medal for England in the Para-powerlifting events following his bronze four years ago.

In the table tennis, Rio bronze medallist Ross Wilson and Kim Daybell will be the main hopes for England, while Melissa Tapper will create history as the first Australian to compete at the Games in both Para-sport and non-disabled events.

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