Joel King and Amanda Landers-Murphy closed off New Zealand’s Commonwealth Games effort in style when they claimed their second successive women’s doubles squash gold medal.
The New Zealanders beat Englishwoman Sarah-Jane Perry and Alison Waters 11-8, 11-8 in an entertaining final.
The result was significant for many reasons:
* New Zealand won 20 gold medals in Birmingham, the most at any Commonwealth Games.
* New Zealand won 49 medals in Birmingham, the most at any overseas 8 Games.
* King has won double gold medals at two successive Commonwealth Games.
* King has won eight Commonwealth Games medals in all, the most of any New Zealand woman.
* King’s five gold medals equals the New Zealand Commonwealth Games record of athlete Val Young.
* King’s eight medals make her equal first with Australian Rachael Grinham among squash medal-winners from any country, though King has won five golds to the Australian’s two.
* King has won medals in four successive Commonwealth Games.
* With three gold medals, this was New Zealand’s most successful Commonwealth Games squash campaign.
The women’s doubles was not easily won, even for such a long-standing and successful team – King and Landers-Murphy have won two world doubles titles, quite beside their Commonwealth Games successes.
They first teamed up at the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games, where they lost a tight quarter-final to Indians Dipika Karthik and Joshna Chinappa, who went on to win the gold medal.
On the Gold Coast in 2018, they won the gold medal, beating the Indian pair in the final. Surprisingly, they lost their first match of that event, in the round robin preliminary stage, and only just scraped into post-section play.
After those Commonwealth Games, Landers-Murphy retired from international squash.
The Rotorua woman has a fulltime job and is also studying.
But King kept after her, imploring her to reconsider. Eventually Landers-Murphy, now 31, agreed to come back for Birmingham.
The result was another gold medal.
“I had plenty of doubts along the way,” she said. “Having to get up early to train before I went off to work, and then more training later in the day. It was tough, and I wondered sometimes if it was worth it. But I know now it was.”
King had to battle her own demons to win the doubles gold.
She had a very testing singles campaign in the first week of the games. Though she was the top seed, she had an almighty battle to get through her quarter-final match against Lucy Termel in 90 minutes, then lost in the semis.
Worse, in the bronze medal play off she squandered match points and went down in a marathon five-game match to Sarah Jane Perry.
“I really had to pick myself up,” she said. “I felt very low for a day, but my team-mates and the support team were fantastic and really looked after me.”
It’s to her credit that at 33 she was able to rally mentally, and that she was physically strong enough to withstand that torrid singles tournament, then still have enough left in the tank to win the gold medal in the mixed doubles with Paul Coll and the doubles with Landers-Murphy.
“It’s been very hard physically, harder than people would know. Amanda and I have promised ourselves a bit of a holiday, starting tomorrow – a few days on a beach in Portugal – and we’re really looking forward to that.”
Though she was the least acclaimed internationally, it was Landers-Murphy who in a manner of speaking dominated the final.
The left-hander played a succession of winning strokes, particularly low boasts that stretched the English women. She broke up the rhythm of the game and every time the English pair mounted a challenge, she would stifle it with a winner.
When it was 8-8 in the first game, she hit three successive winners, the last a spectacular smash into the nick.
She kept up her array of winners through the second game and when New Zealand had built up a 9-4 lead, the match seemed as good as over. The Englishwomen fought back, but New Zealand had too many guns and were not to be denied.
Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games