Swimming: England and Australia head gold rush

Home team's four victories matched by Thorpe as controversial disqualification mars 200m backstroke
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The Independent Online

It rained a lot in Manchester yesterday. Most people just got wet, the English and Australian swimming teams got drenched in gold. They won all nine finals between them on a hugely entertaining night of myriad Games records and a historic win for the home women's 4x200 metres relay team.

If that were not enough there was controversy, too, as Australia's Matt Welsh, the red-hot favourite in the men's 200m backstroke, was disqualified before last night's final, allowing England's James Goddard a thrilling, unexpected victory.

In total, Australia edged the gold rush with five, including a fourth of the Games for Ian Thorpe, who remains on course for a magnificent seven. His latest success came in the men's 4x200m freestyle, which his team took ahead of Canada and England. The winning time, a Games record, was 7 minutes 11.69 seconds.

England took four golds, the first an indirect result of the episode that saw Welsh, the winner of Wednesday's 50m backstroke and a man who could well beat Thorpe in the 100m event, disqualified in yesterday morning's heats. He was adjudged to have moved before the start, a decision which the Australian delegation appealed against. However, their protest was rejected and last night's final took place without Welsh.

Step forward Goddard, a 19-year-old Manchester City fanatic from Stockport, to become the surprise winner of the race instead, in a time of 1:59.83. On a night of Blues' success for the host city and simple blues for Welsh, Scotland's Gregor Tait took silver in 2:00.55, with Goddard's compatriot, Simon Militis, taking bronze, clocking 2:01.04.

The second home gold came in the 100m backstroke, where Sarah Price won as expected, breaking the Games record she set earlier this week in the process. She recorded 1:01.06, ahead of two Australians, Dyana Calub and Giaan Rooney. England's Adam Whitehead then won the 100m breaststroke with his team-mate James Gibson third. Canada's Morgan Knabe prevented a possible home nation 1-2-3 by winning silver as Darren Mew came fourth.

England's women's 4x200m freestyle relay team made history when they denied Australia that title for the first time in Games history: and in a Games record time of 8:01.39. Australia, famously disqualified with the Americans at last year's World Championships in a fiasco that saw England win by default, took silver, with Canada third.

The mood in the England camp was summed up by the night's first winner. "I'm delighted," said Goddard. "I think everyone had a chance when Welsh was disqualified. I'm only 19 and I hope this is the start of a long career."

Thorpe, only 19 and yet with a five-year career of astonishing feats already behind him, last night also progressed to tonight's 100m freestyle final by winning his semi-final with a Games record. He clocked 49.31sec to beat the old mark, set by his compatriot Michael Klim four years ago, by 0.12sec. England's Matthew Kidd was the second-fastest qualifier, winning his semi-final in 49.72sec.

Australia's Jodie Henry took the women's 100m freestyle final in 55.45sec, with England's Karen Legg taking bronze. Australia also took gold in the women's 200m breaststroke, with a win for Leisel Jones, and in the final of the men's 50m butterfly, which Geoff Huegill won, beating his own Games record by clocking 23.57sec. England's Mark Foster had to settle for bronze. The night's other final, the men's 50m multi-disability freestyle, went to Australia's Ben Austin.

For Thorpe, only three events now stand between him and a gold tally last claimed at a major event by Mark Spitz in the 1972 Olympics. Arguably his toughest task, the 100m backstroke, starts with heats this morning while the very last event at the Games, the men's 4x100m medley relay, comes on Sunday evening. A right decent finale, as they say in these parts.

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