‘It was one of the proudest moments of my career and to stand on the podium was unforgettable’
INTERVIEW by ALAN THATCHER (Squash Mad Editor)
England’s Sue Rose (nee Wright) has some treasured, golden memories of being among the first squash medal winners when the sport made its Commonwealth Games debut in Malaysia in 1998. Looking back to that landmark event 24 years ago, she says it was “beyond special”.
Sue, from Biggin Hill in Kent but now living in Oxfordshire, teamed up with Cassie Jackman (now Thomas) to win the women’s doubles, beating Australians Robyn Cooper and Natalie Grinham in the final.
In the women’s singles, Sue and Cassie both came away with bronze medals after reaching the semi-finals, where Sue lost to Michelle Martin and Cassie went down to Sarah Fitzgerald.
To reach the semi-finals, Sue beat Lisa Opie 9-1, 9-2, 9-5 in the second round and New Zealand’s Leilani Joyce in the quarters, finishing strongly to win a dramatic five-setter 9-2, 9-6, 4-9, 1-9, 9-0.
The Aussies were on top form in the semi-finals and Sue lost 9-7, 9-1, 9-2 to Michelle and Cassie achieved just four points against a ruthless Fitz, losing 9-2, 9-0, 9-2. In the final, Martin beat Fitzgerald 9-0, 9-6, 9-5.
There were some tough battles ahead for Sue and Cassie in the women’s doubles. They beat fellow England players Linda Charman and Jane Martin 17-16, 6-15, 15-10 in the quarter-finals before playing brilliantly to beat Aussies Fitzgerald and Carol Owens 13-15, 17-14, 15-5 in the semis.
Aussies Cooper and Grinham had beaten South Africans Natalie Grainger and Claire Nitch 15-7, 15-9 in the semis but the English girls played solid squash to win the final 15-10, 15-12 to take the gold medal.
Looking back on the whole experience, Sue recalled: “My memories are obviously fond ones. To be part of the first ever England Squash squad to attend the Commonwealth Games was probably one of the proudest moments of my career and to stand on the podium was an unforgettable moment.
“Being in the athletes village was incredible. Even though I was there competing myself I felt like a fan at the same time being around so many well known, amazing athletes.
“One of my notable memories was actually in the food hall when the New Zealand rugby team walked in for their dinner. The whole place just came to a standstill as everyone just watched them. tThey were mesmerising and commanded the room.
“The village was always bustling with activity morning, noon and night. It felt special to be part of the environment and one that will stay with me forever.”
The Kuala Lumpur squash venue has since been renamed the Nicol David Squash Centre. A young Nicol went out early in both the singles and the doubles and Sue admitted: “If I’m honest I don’t recall Nicol at that stage. She was very young and my focus was of course on the event and trying to win a medal.
“The thought of winning one of the first ever squash medals at the Commonwealth Games was exciting and nerve racking at the same time, and to come away with two was a dream, particularly as one was gold which I won with Cassie.
“It was incredibly special to be able to stand on the podium and receive a gold medal, something you dream of but when it comes true is almost surreal.
“Along with the medals we were given mascots and a commemorative medal which I still have to this day, along with some of my kit and my Nike kit bag!
“As far as how it was run, I just remember it all as being an absolute ball. From the opening ceremony, to the competition, games village, athletes, crowds. It was beyond special.”
Sue is now heavily involved in badminton, with her son Ethan one of England’s leading players, but she is still keen to help the game of squash to recover from years of decline.
Someone with Sue’s drive, determination and incredible depth of knowledge, especially in the art of top-level success, should not be lost to the game.
Pictures courtesy of Sue Rose