Paul Coll says he struggled “to sleep properly this week” as he “dreamed about this moment” – winning New Zealand’s first men’s squash Commonwealth Games gold medal.
The 30-year-old slumped to the court in relief and delight after delivering the West Coast a rare Commonwealth Games title in a five-set 95-minute marathon before winning 3-2.
The tournament top seed and world No 2 survived a setback in the first game to beat Wales’ world No 7 Joel Makin in Birmingham 3-11, 11-9, 8-11, 11-8, 11-7 on Wednesday (Thursday NZ time) and become New Zealand’s first male Commonwealth Games squash champion.
It capped a stellar year for Coll, the 2018 Commonwealth silver medalist who defended his British Open in April after his break-through win in 2021.
After receiving his gold medal from world squash great Jansher Khan, Coll declared it “one of the best moments of my life”, but conceded he had had to “dig deep”.
“It’s been amazing this week, it’s been on the top of my mind, I haven’t been able to turn my brain off,” Coll told Sky Sport.
“Watching all the other Kiwi athletes just gave me so much motivation and desire to have a gold medal around my neck tonight.
“I couldn’t be more proud of myself. I was battling out there… [trying] to find a way to win the match. It was just epic, there were so many Kiwis in the crowd, it was one of the best moments of my life.”
Visualizing a gold medal victory had been “keeping me up at night”, Coll said. “I’ve just been dreaming of this every night his week.”
Coll knew he was in for an epic – he had beaten Makin, a 27-year-old from Pembrokeshire, in a tough five-setter in the 2018 Commonwealth Games semifinal before losing the final to England’s James Willstrop.
The pair produced another thriller four years later, one worthy of an All Blacks-Wales test match.
Play was punctuated with breaks for two failed reviews while the court surface had to be mopped regularly after the players – sweating due to the Birmingham heat and the intensity of their rallies – tumbled to the deck.
Makin – who had lost his previous five encounters with Coll – came hurtling out of the blocks, taking an early 4-0 lead in the first game on his way to winning it 11-3.
“I knew exactly what he was bringing to the table tonight, that it was going to be a battle from start to finish,” Coll said.
”The first game was a shocking start for me, everything was going wrong, it felt like it. I’m just proud of that effort to be able to pull that win out of the bag.”
Coll came back to win a tight second game, 11-3, but Makin prevailed 11-8 in the third before Coll closed out the final two stanzas, 11-8 and 11-7 despite some desperate rallies by the Welshman.
“I’m just proud of myself how I dug back from 2-1 down,” Coll said.
“Credit to him for fighting for every point. It was not easy out there, I’m just stoked to get out with the W.”
Coll said he had had “wicked” support from the whole New Zealand team. “It’s just been an incredible week so far, but the job’s not done. We’ve got doubles out there tomorrow.”
The Greymouth product now joins another athlete from the wider West Coast region – netballer Anna Harrison – as a Commonwealth Games champion. Harrison (nee Scarlett), born and raised in Karamea in the Buller district, won back-to-back Games gold medals in Melbourne in 2006 and Delhi in 2010.
The game featured some quality squash, and some tense moments.
Coll, near the end of the second game, and Makin at the start of the third, both had review appeals turned down by veteran referee John Mazzarella after initial decisions went against them.
Makin’s snub served to fire him up further – he went out to a 2-0 advantage in the third before Coll quickly pegged it back.
The gritty Welshman overcame a couple of consecutive errors to win the third game 11-8, leading Coll to hurl his racquet in frustration.
Coll looked in control of the fourth game at 8-4, but Makin came back at home before Coll clinched it 11-8 to take the match into a nail-biting fifth and final game.
A partisan British crowd willed Makin on – particularly after he won an interminably long early rally, but Coll showed his composure to close it out 11-7 with a poise befitting a player accustomed to winning big tournament finals.
Makin kept fighting to the end, saving two match-ball situations after determined rallies, but Coll just had a little extra class.
It was Coll’s third Commonwealth Games medal after his singles silver and mixed doubles bronze (with Joelle King) in 2018.
Meanwhile, Willstrop, the defending champion, missed the medals this time. The 38-year-old lasted just 33 minutes in losing the bronze medal match, 11-6, 11-1, 11-4, to India’s Sourav Ghosal, who beat Coll in the semifinals.