Aucklander set to represent Jersey at Commonwealth Games
The 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham are the closest to be held to Jersey since Cardiff hosted the event in 1958 – but one island athlete will be travelling across the world to get there.
Jersey-born sprinter Zachary Saunders will make a journey of more than 18,500 km from his home in New Zealand to pull on a white and red vest.
The 19-year-old is New Zealand’s under-20 100m and 200m champion, but the sprinter has chosen to represent the island of his birth in Birmingham.
“Being born in Jersey and just being able to have that opportunity is really positive and gives me a chance to compete at that world level,” he told BBC Sport.
“It’ll be pretty natural,” he added when asked how it will feel representing an island he has not visited for the best part of a decade versus the country that has nurtured his talents.
“Ultimately it is my heritage, it’s where I was born and my mum, grandpa and that side of the family are all from there.
“If I were to represent New Zealand or Jersey it would be the same.”
But Saunders is not someone Jersey have just suddenly discovered by accident.
His prowess at running first came to notice at a school sports day when he was 12 and his progress has been followed in detail in Jersey by his grandfather Martin Hebden, who was president of the Commonwealth Games Association of Jersey from 2003 to 2011 and led the island’s teams at the Games in Melbourne in 2006 and Delhi four years later.
“He spoke with the management team a few years ago when I was looking at running at the Commonwealth Youth Games,” Saunders explained.
“They ended up getting cancelled due to Covid, so I’d been in contact with Jersey about representing them at that sort of level and this year, being on the pathway programme, put me in good stead to be selected for this year’s games.”
Saunders recently missed out on making the final of his first-ever overseas meeting – the Australian Under-20 championships – by less than 0.1 of a second.
He trains in Auckland under coach James Mortimer, who ran for New Zealand at the 2006 Commonwealth Games in Melbourne and practises alongside Zoe Hobbs and Portia Bing, who both put on the black jersey at the last World Championships in Doha in 2019.
“The goal this year is to make the second round, to make the semi-final,” Saunders added.
“Obviously going all the way to the final and pushing for a medal would be great, but as a 19-year-old and the fact I haven’t done all the competitions before, this one is really good as a learning step going forward.
“Hopefully a semi-final, but who knows, if I run the best I’ve ever run and manage to make the final that would be pretty surreal.”
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