Representing your country in one sport is a fantastic achievement, but Nigel Avery has done so in three.

New Zealand's Chef de Mission for the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games started out in athletics before injury curtailed his career in triple jumping.

He then moved into bobsleigh before finally settling on weightlifting - in which he enjoyed great success.

A Sydney 2000 Olympian, Avery also won five super heavyweight medals at the Commonwealth Games, including golds in the total and clean and jerk at Manchester 2002.

Despite all three of his sports appearing to be very different, he was able to utilise a lot of the same skills.

"Each sport helped the other," Avery told insidethegames.

"Bobsleigh was by accident really. 

"New Zealand had a very loose sort of programme, and whoever was on the team was asked 'who else do you think might be good at this?' 

"My name came up and at the time I was transitioning out of triple jump due to a bit of an injury. 

"I'd always wanted to make a big New Zealand team and I'd never quite got there when I was a triple jumper. 

"This was maybe an opportunity to attend a Winter Olympics, that was the motivation. 

Nigel Avery won two gold medals at the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images
Nigel Avery won two gold medals at the Manchester 2002 Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images

"They were looking for strong, powerful, fast guys that perhaps were maybe a little bit stupid and didn't mind racing down an ice chute. 

"I seemed to fit that bill and I was reasonably good at it."

Despite not making the Winter Olympics, bobsleigh provided a direct link to weightlifting.

"It was the training for that, getting slightly bigger, and hitting the weight room I'd be training with some of the weightlifters in Auckland in the off-season," Avery said. 

"I started to get good at some of the weightlifting disciplines and exercises, to the point where I thought 'this is interesting', and I fell into the sport of weightlifting. 

"Everything I did in triple jump, the sprinting, the power, the jumping, all that stuff, helped with bobsleigh. 

"And all those things helped with weightlifting. I guess I was fortunate by accident."

Avery, who won snatch silver at Manchester 2002, and also snatch and total bronze at Kuala Lumpur 1998, is now preparing to lead a New Zealand team of around 230 to 240 athletes in Birmingham.

His multi-sport background should help with the Chef de Mission role.

"It's good seeing sports and comparing it to others," he said. "The differences, the strengths and weaknesses, you can see different things. 

"It allows me to look at other sports with a different lens, and curiosity and wonder, to see what are the things which make these guys tick? 

New Zealand won 15 gold medals at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images
New Zealand won 15 gold medals at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images

"In this role, even though I'm not there from a performance perspective, I've got a lot of empathy and understanding that different sports have different needs, and desires and wants."

New Zealand are one of the powerhouse nations at the Commonwealth Games and are due to compete in every sport in Birmingham, with the exception of table tennis.

Avery said the event was held in high regard in the country and that leading athletes would want to attend.

"We do surveys and it does resonate very strongly," he said.

"We've held it here three times and some of the greatest sporting moments have come from those Games. 

"So it's held in really high esteem. 

"Clearly, there's a potential performance quality gap between that and the Olympics and World Champs, but in some sports it is as high as, particularly track and field and some of the running events.

"In Europe when there's conflicting European Championships there have been some issues on choosing to compete at the Commonwealth Games or not. 

"From a New Zealand standpoint it really is seen as a pretty important event. It's something that programmes are based around and targeted to. 

"We're fully committed."

New Zealand could be particularly strong in team sports in Birmingham, with the country boasting the netball world champions and the reigning Olympic gold medallists in women's rugby sevens.

Men's rugby and hockey will also be predictably strong, while the introduction of women's T20 cricket will bring some new faces to the fold.

Women's cricket will provide a new dimension to the Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images
Women's cricket will provide a new dimension to the Commonwealth Games ©Getty Images

"They are fizzing," Avery said of the cricket team. "They're really excited about being part of all this. 

"Obviously they've seen it all growing up and watching it every four years.

"They're thrilled to contribute to what is a rich tapestry of history in the Commonwealth Games."

Avery said his own memories of competing and winning at the Commonwealth Games were "incredibly strong".

"Obviously it's 20 years ago now!" he said. "But some of those things I can remember like it was yesterday. 

"It really was an amazing experience for me personally. It's something which will stick with me forever, and Manchester holds a strong place in my heart as a result.

"My Olympic experience in Sydney was an incredible highlight. But being able to stand on top of the podium and watch your flag being raised, and listening to your anthem, was pretty hard to beat."

At the Manchester 2002 Closing Ceremony, Avery was named as New Zealand's flagbearer.

"It was totally unexpected," he said. "To do that for your country is an incredibly proud moment." 

In Birmingham, the favourite in Avery's super heavyweight division will be fellow New Zealander David Liti, who is due to defend the gold he won four years ago in Gold Coast.

Liti was presented with the David Dixon Award at the Australian Games, for helping injured rival Lauititi Lui during the medal ceremony, which the Samoan had to attend in a wheelchair.

David Liti is carrying on New Zealand's tradition in super heavyweight weightlifting ©Getty Images
David Liti is carrying on New Zealand's tradition in super heavyweight weightlifting ©Getty Images

"The super heavyweight weightlifting pedigree for New Zealand is very strong," said Avery. "David's carrying it on. 

"I don't know what's in the water here but we seem to do well in the larger weight classes. 

"David is next level. The first time I saw him on video I went 'oh my gosh, he is going to be New Zealand's best ever weightlifter', and he's turned out to be that. 

"He's an incredible person as well, very humble. But on the platform when he switches it on, it's something special to see and really entertaining." 

New Zealand's COVID-19 laws gained worldwide attention, with the country keeping case numbers low amid tough entry rules.

In August, a snap nationwide lockdown was called after a single case was detected. 

"We did a good job keeping it out but then our borders were closed for a long time," said Avery, who was Chef de Mission for New Zealand at the Sydney Youth Olympic festival in 2007.

"While we were having relative freedom within New Zealand, we were watching other sports people participating and competing in their chosen sports. 

"There's a bit of a gap there from a competitive standpoint. 

"Having said that, it's been a chance for these guys and girls to really knuckle down and get their physical preparedness ready. 

"So I think we're all looking at it from a positive side - 'what can we do?' rather than what we can't do. 

"We'll go to the Games full of confidence and what will be, will be." 

Avery said that the well-being of his team would be an important factor for him.

"Just acknowledging that perhaps the wellness side of sports performance hasn't been looked at as well as it could have," he said.

Nigel Avery has been appointed as New Zealand's Chef de Mission for Birmingham 2022 ©Getty Images
Nigel Avery has been appointed as New Zealand's Chef de Mission for Birmingham 2022 ©Getty Images

"We're just working with sport to make sure there are safety nets, or some sort of system in place to catch issues if they arise. 

"We're very good at proceeding at an event. We're looking at what happens post-event, and what we can do to support athletes. 

"After participating at an event that you've worked so hard to get to, going down the other side of that can be quite challenging. 

"That's been acknowledged now so we're going to put in place some practices to help smooth that landing." 

Avery, who was the high performance manager at the Millennium Institute of Sport and Health for five years, said he would not be giving the team any targets.

"It's all about maximising performance," he said. 

"Whether it be standing at the top of the podium, or standing incredibly proud with your family and friends and New Zealanders after achieving your personal best, or the absolute best you can do. 

"You have to define what is 'winning'. 

"Clearly there is the first place getter, but it goes a lot deeper than that. 

"We're encouraging all our athletes that we want to provide an environment where they can all succeed to the level that they want to and aspire to." 

With a big team, the New Zealand squad will be split across the three Athletes' Villages which will be in operation during Birmingham 2022.

This will mean a different feel to previous Commonwealth Games, but Avery said he was grateful to Birmingham for stepping in as host in 2017, following the decision to strip Durban of the rights.

The host city, therefore, has not had as much time to prepare as previous locations.

New Zealand will be predictably strong in the rugby sevens competitions ©Getty Images
New Zealand will be predictably strong in the rugby sevens competitions ©Getty Images

 "Team culture is a very important thing for the New Zealand team," said Avery, a former President of Auckland Weightlifting.

"We just have to re-imagine how we do that. 

"We owe a great deal of thanks to Birmingham for putting its hand out to take the Games on, at what was a late stage. 

"Overlaying COVID to that, what they've put together is pretty amazing. 

"It's not going to be ideal but everybody knows that. 

"We accept it and we'll embrace whatever we've got, as we're very thankful that we actually have the chance to get out there and compete.

"People in the UK love sport so the stadiums I imagine are going to be chocka with sports fans. 

"I think it will be an incredible atmosphere and it looks like the venues will be spectacular. We're really looking forward to getting out there."

Avery's move to sports governance included a spell on the New Zealand Olympic Committee Athletes' Commission between 2002 and 2008.

"It seemed like a pretty natural thing really," he said on joining the body. 

"New Zealand is very strong and getting stronger on getting the athlete voice out there. I think it's very important that administrators do listen to the coal face. 

"The Athletes' Commission was an interesting role and I was very happy to give back."

New Zealand's three home Commonwealth Games have been Christchurch in 1974, and Auckland in 1950 and 1990.

With the Commonwealth Games Federation introducing new rules to encourage more countries to bid - including making athletics and swimming the only compulsory sports - there could potentially be another Kiwi bid at some point in the future.

New Zealand last hosted the Commonwealth Games in Auckland in 1990 ©Getty Images
New Zealand last hosted the Commonwealth Games in Auckland in 1990 ©Getty Images

"The Commonwealth Games Federation have realised that there's barriers and impediments for nations putting their hands up, and economic is one of them," Avery said. 

"I think it's going to make it much, much more attractive for countries to say, 'yeah this is doable'.

"To be able to say 'look you've only got to support two sports as a mandate, athletics and swimming' and then build everything else around what you have so the cost of construction is far less... 

"A multi-Village site - potentially that's the way of the future... 

"Obviously Victoria 2026 has taken that approach. 

"I think there is probably some quiet enthusiasm that it's something we should definitely look at. 

"We'll just have to wait and see what that comes out to be."