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Gina Kennedy

Kennedy Aiming To Achieve Lifelong Dream At Commonwealth Games

By RJ Mitchell

Gina Kennedy has revealed that a podium finish at the Birmingham Commonwealth Games would help her realise a lifelong dream with one small difference – she always thought it would come in athletics.

The Englishwoman has enjoyed an unbelievable rise up the World Rankings and on July 1, she reached the top eight of the PSA Women’s World Rankings for the first time. That followed a month which saw her reach the last 16 of the El Gouna International and make her debut at the season-ending CIB PSA World Tour Finals.

Now as she prepares to do battle at the £55million University of Birmingham Hockey & Squash Centre, which was opened in 2017 and boasts a 2,000 square metre indoor arena housing an all-glass squash court with more than 2,000 seats, Kennedy is seeded No.3 and many seasoned observers outside bet to be garlanded in gold amidst a background of a billowing cross of St. George.

As the 25-year-old revealed her childhood dream still burns bright: “As a little girl, I was a runner and I dreamt of being an Olympian, and at night I went to bed dreaming of being on that podium and although it is not the Olympics, the Commonwealth Games is the closest thing we have to it.

“So for me personally winning a medal at Birmingham would be the greatest achievement of my life so far and be very difficult to top. Also the fact I am representing England makes it really special and unique. I always dreamt of representing Team GB in the Olympics and England in the Commonwealth Games and now here I am and really it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Yet as Kennedy was honest enough to admit the change in the expectation levels that surround her just as her own ambitions for the Birmingham Games have also altered has been tough to adapt to.

“It’s crazy to think that when I started on the tour my goal was purely just to get selected for the Commonwealth Games,” admitted the World No.8.

“I knew this would a be a really tough challenge due to the strength and depth of the England Squad and I thought just getting selected, especially with my ranking down at 170, well it would be amazing just to be selected. Yet now that I am going into the games as one of the favourites to medal in my own head I want to make sure that medal is gold and that means I have a completely different mindset from two years back when I just wanted to get selected.

Gina Kennedy in action at the WSF World Doubles Championships in Glasgow

“It is incredible to think about winning that gold but I am doing my very best to make sure I do not get carried away by dreaming about that right now. Even the thought of winning a medal gives me goosebumps and so I am just trying to approach it like any other tournament and not let it overwhelm me. But at the same time it is a possibility and obviously what I am ultimately here to try and achieve.”

Ahead of Kennedy in the seedings are the two women who battled it out for gold four years back on Australia’s Gold Coast, in reigning champion Joelle King and Kennedy’s fellow Englishwoman Sarah-Jane Perry, who came up just short in a rollercoaster of a final that still lingers long in the memory of those who witnessed it.

Interestingly, Kennedy boasts a 1-1 head-to-head with King from their two meetings this season while she has a 2-0 advantage in action against Perry but Kennedy remains uncertain who the stats favour.

“In a way it’s a good thing as I know what to expect as I have beaten both Joelle and SJ this season but I have also lost to both of them as well which makes for a very exciting competition as we are all going to Birmingham believing we can do it,” she explained.

“But it also adds to the pressure as when you are entering a tournament as the underdog well you just go in there and play your game and see where that takes you and you are happy to fly under the radar and stir things up. But now everyone knows what to expect and there is expectancy and pressure on me and it is up to me to handle that and the nerves that come with it and if I can do all of that I am confident I can do well.

“With Joelle, she has won gold and been there and done it before, so maybe the pressure is more on those of us who haven’t but maybe this will be her and SJ’s last games so I don’t think that affects how I will approach it. Whether this will be my first Commonwealth Games and I have two or three more, or it is my last I am going to make sure that I make this one count.”

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As Kennedy revealed her appreciation of just how big the Commonwealth Games has come with the media attention she has surfed which has crossed over into the mainstream with interviews provided for The Telegraph and Evening Standard.

“The Commonwealth Games are different there is no doubt about it. As squash players we are travelling around many countries and no one really knows what is going on with us in the world but everyone in England and the UK knows what is going on regarding the Commonwealth Games.

“I have had a couple of the papers come down to Parklangley to interview me and it is really cool that it is reaching people outside of the squash world because if you are a tennis star you are used to that but we definitely aren’t!”

But there is no doubt that with it being a home games there is one huge advantage that Kennedy believes could make a vital difference.

“My mum, Jill, and my dad, Alex, will be there and also my coach, Ben Ford, and a lot of people from Parklangley will also be along and it will be great to have some home love in the crowd,” she explained.

“Coming off the World Tour Finals, which was a disappointing tournament for me, I have been working on a few things since then, although I also struggled with the conditions and maybe that did hit my confidence a bit. So, from that point of view it is good to be going into the Commonwealth Games knowing they will be played in normal conditions.

“That said mainly it is about getting into a good place mentally. I feel like my squash is there and so is my physical conditioning so I believe it will all come down to the mental side of things and who deals with that best. So that is what I have been concentrating on and with it being a home games that definitely is also a huge positive.”

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