Diver Noah Williams is pumped for a second Commonwealth Games having won a silver medal on his debut four years ago. He was just 17 when he stood on the Gold Coast podium, and having competed at an Olympic Games in Tokyo last summer, he comes into Birmingham 2022 as an athlete that many are excited to see in action. This year could not be much closer to home, unlike in 2018, and Noah is excited to represent Team England again.
“The Gold Coast was my first multi-sport event,” said Noah. “I'm obviously used to competing internationally and mixing with the other divers, but it was the first time I'd been to something like this. There were sprinters and people doing different sports and it's going to sound weird, but I felt really small because in pretty much every sport apart from diving, being tall is a good thing.
“There were basketball players and the netball team, and they're all so tall. So, when I went to the food hall, I just felt like a child again, which was quite weird! It's really cool mixing and seeing other sports perform and meeting lots of people on Team England who have walked similar paths to me but are in very different sports.
“I really enjoyed the Village life out there. The weather was obviously lovely on the Gold Coast, so we got to go out as well, instead of just being cooped up in a hotel before competition, which is pretty normal, especially nowadays. It was a really fun event and it's one I'm looking forward to a lot this year, especially with the home crowd. The competition went really well for me out on the Gold Coast and I'm hoping I can replicate that in Birmingham.”
As a younger athlete in Australia, Noah believes he was able to enjoy the Games without the pressure facing more experienced athletes. He said: “I felt like I could kind of enjoy it a bit more because for some people out there, Tom Daley for example, he's expected to win because that's who he is.
“You can see people like him who were out there….seem a bit more stressed than I obviously was. I just enjoyed it and whatever came with it was a bonus. I saw people like Yohan Blake and people I'd seen on my TV before performing and doing well in their events.
“I think being young and it being my first Commonwealth Games, I could really just soak everything up and do what I wanted to enjoy it and not have any pressure on me.”
Three years after Commonwealth success came the delayed Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games - an event which Noah believes his Gold Coast experience greatly helped him for.
“It definitely helped in terms of qualifying because whenever you do perform well, it gives you a confidence boost and then when you're more confident, you perform better,” said Noah. “If your team manager sees you confident and performing well, they're more likely to select you to go to the next event. It definitely helped me get to that stage, but the Olympics is different from any other event.
“Even though you are technically doing the same thing, the Commonwealth Games is, I'd say, the second biggest event in terms of audience with diving and the Olympics is on an even bigger scale than that. It is crazy how different it is, but it's good to have experienced it now and done it once in preparation for the next one.”
Birmingham is now fast approaching, and the Londoner is satisfied with how he has been training and competing recently.
He said: “It's going well. It's been a good start to the year, but we're just hoping to keep the momentum because anything can change, injuries can change the game. So we have to try and stay fit all the way until the beginning of August, which is still a while away. But it's going well so far.”
The Team England Futures programme, being delivered by SportsAid on behalf of Commonwealth Games England, will mean several young athletes have the opportunity to experience the Commonwealth Games behind-the-scenes this summer.
Noah did not get to experience this type of programme himself, but knows how useful it is for young athletes to see how multi-sport events happen before they themselves compete.
“There's definitely a benefit to it,” he said. “I know a few other people who have done similar things but I've never had the chance to do it. The Commonwealths or Olympics are so different from any other events we do. Getting to go behind-the-scenes and see how the Village works, it definitely prepares them in the future for when they qualify for the Commonwealth Games or the Olympic Games.
“They can know what to expect and be prepared to perform well instead of being thrown in the deep end for their first major, not knowing what anything is like or what they're meant to do or perform like. It will really help them in the future far more than you ever think it would.”
Noah himself benefitted from SportsAid funding and feels the support had a real impact on enabling him to get to where he is now – particularly as it helped him cope with the financial demands of diving.
“It helped me quite a lot, diving is a pretty expensive sport,” said the 22-year-old. “It doesn't seem like it will be, but it's mainly just the fees are expensive, and I don’t come from a well-off family. So, for the first part of my career, just paying for the fees helped immensely.
“There was one year in 2014 where I received the SportsAid grant, and I got the opportunity to go to Italy to compete. It was a self-funded event, and I wouldn't have been able to do it without the SportsAid grant.
“Thanks to SportsAid, I was able to go and do that event and I won. And then because I did that, I qualified for the Junior World Championships which was my first Team GB competition. So my career could have been completely different if I wasn't able to get that money, go to that event and then qualify for Team GB.”
Commonwealth Games England has appointed SportsAid to lead on the development, management and operational delivery of Team England Futures at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games. The programme, supported by Sport England, will reinforce the importance of the Commonwealth Games, particularly one hosted on home soil, as a developmental opportunity within the talent and performance pathway!