Team England teenager Marfa Ekimova yesterday claimed the individual all-around Commonwealth Games title with a narrow victory over closest rival Anna Sokolova of Cyprus.
The 17-year-old impressed to take gold with a combined total of 112.300 to win by just 0.200 as she led after the first rotation - claiming 28.850 points - with the hoop before sealing the title with 27.100 in the ribbon.
Ekimova added to her bronze medal in Thursday’s team final to be crowned champion, while Australia’s Alexandra Kiroi-Bogatyreva completed the podium after finishing with a total of 111.100 points.
Ekimova, who finished fourth overall the previous day, was delighted to see her dream of Commonwealth gold realised.
She said: “It’s been my aim, it’s been my goal, it’s been my dream. I did everything I could. I put my heart out on the floor. It was a tight one (the difference between gold and silver) but it was incredible and a dream come true.
“It was amazing to have my mum here, my coaches and all the support behind me. I spoke to my coaches (after yesterday’s competition). They gave me tips and helped me concentrate. I put everything in, and the crowd really helped. I fixed my mistakes and gave even more.”
Ekimova also qualified for today’s ball, hoop and ribbon finals with the chance to take her Birmingham 2022 medal tally to five, and admitted she had fallen in love with Gymnastics as a six-year-old.
She added: “I’m just going to start again and go again from zero (today). I was six years old (when I was introduced to Gymnastics). I tried a lot of different sports, dance and theatre but Gymnastics was my passion.”
Earlier yesterday, Team England’s Jack Laugher successfully defended his Commonwealth title as he and Anthony Harding celebrated gold in the men’s Synchronised 3m springboard title after a flawless performance.
The 27-year-old Olympic champion, who won the discipline at Gold Coast 2018 and Glasgow 2014, made it a hat-trick of victories as the England duo sealed the title with 438.33 points - to win by a massive 61.56 - for Laugher’s seventh Games title in total and second gold of Birmingham 2022.
Malaysia’s Gabriel Daim and Mohamed Syafiq Bin Puteh took silver with 376.77 points, while Australia clinched the final spot on the podium as Shixin LI, who won silver in Thursday’s 1m springboard final, and Sam Fricker matched their 2018 result with bronze.
Indian, Pakistani weightlifters unite on and off podium
Two hulking weightlifters from opposite sides of the often tense India-Pakistan frontier shared the podium at the Commonwealth Games - and then celebrated together to their favourite rapper.
The affinity between Pakistani gold medallist Nooh Dastgir Butt and India’s Gurdeep Singh, who came third in the 109+ kg category in Birmingham on Wednesday, stands in stark contrast to the nuclear-armed neighbours’ political rivalry. Those tensions often spill into the sporting arena - they only play each other at cricket in multi-nation events, despite it being by far the most popular sport in both countries.
The two weightlifters come from either side of Punjab, a state divided between the neighbours at Partition 75 years ago, and have a common language and culture. They also share a love of the music of murdered Punjabi rapper Sidhu Moose Wala. The two strongmen were born about 250 kilometres (155 miles) apart and according to the 26-year-old Singh first met in junior championships six years ago. They “would share tips about diet. Conversing in Punjabi obviously helped our friendship”, he told The Indian Express from Birmingham. Commonwealth Games champion Butt, 24, described them as “very good friends”.
“After the gold, I first congratulated Gurdeep and later we did a small celebration where we danced to Moose Wala’s songs,” he said. Moose Wala, also known by his birth name Shubhdeep Singh Sidhu, was shot dead in his car in the Indian state of Punjab in May.
The 28-year-old was popular on both sides of the border and among Punjabi communities abroad, especially in Canada and Britain, with his death sparking anger and outrage among fans across the world. Butt, born into a family of wrestlers, said that he also enjoyed support from across the border.
“I have more fans from India than Pakistan in the weightlifting community,” he said. “The kind of love India has given me, no other country has given me.”
His father Ghulam Dastgir Butt, a 16-time Pakistan national champion wrestler, added: “I get surprised when people talk that India and Pakistan are born enemies. The amount of love and respect India has given to me, we also love Indian players and Hindustan the same,” The Indian Express quoted him as saying.
Gold medallist England’s Marfa Ekimova with her coach celebrates winning the rhythmic gymnastics individual all-around final at Arena Birmingham yesterday. (Reuters)