Commonwealt Games: Swimming - Sexton springs title shock

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IN THE traditional carnival atmosphere of the last night of the swimming Katy Sexton produced the swim of her life to emerge as a surprise Commonwealth champion.

The 16-year-old arrived from Portsmouth hoping for a best time and a place in the final of the 200-metre backstroke, but a dramatic charge through the field down the final 50 metres took her from third to a nail- biting gold, winning by just 0.01sec in a British record time of 2:13.18.

"I really just went out there and raced. Before coming to Kuala Lumpur I only set my intentions on improving my personal best. This was not expected at all," she said somewhat overwhelmed by her achievement. "I thought that not winning a medal wouldn't exactly be the end of the world, but I had a quick look at the scoreboard, saw I was third and just went for it. I felt quite comfortable actually. It has gone really well, better than expected." said Sexton, who broke her own personal best by more than two seconds to win her first major international title six months after having knee surgery.

Helen Don-Duncan, the pre-race favourite, was also under the old record and finished third.

Sue Rolph won her second gold medal of the games in a tense battle with Scotland's Alison Sheppard over the 50-metre sprint. These two have been trading British records in the event all summer and last night was the first time they raced head to head.

Rolph's winning time of 25.82sec was some way off the record, but her tally this week of two gold, one silver and two bronze makes her England's top performer of all time.

However, the games golden girl is Australia's Susan O'Neill, who was winning her sixth race in the 200 metres butterfly. Her recording of 2:06.60 was the second fastest of all time.

James Hickman proved he was England's man of the games by adding two silvers to the gold and silver he already has. Hickman led from the front in the 200 metres individual medley before Australian Matthew Dunn overwhelmed him in the final stages. "I knew I would be in front after the first 100 and it would be up to him to catch me. Well, he did, but I'm very pleased with the medal and another British record."

Hickman helped the four-times 100 metres medley team to a silver medal and another British record of 3:40.73.

The race of the night was undoubtedly the 1500 metres free-style. This is an event traditionally dominated by Australia and lining up was World record-holder Kieren Perkins, World Champion Grant Hackett and Olympic bronze medallist Dan Kowalski. Hackett quickly took the lead and was never challenged, but the packed arena was roaring the three-way battle for silver as South Africa's Ryk Neethling traded blows for 15 rounds with the other two Australian heavyweights. After 30 lengths, Neethling somehow found the strength to hold off his rivals for the shock result of these games. Caught in the crossfire, Scotland's Olympic bronze medallist Graeme Smith and Ian Wilson finished fifth and sixth respectively.

Hackett was pleased to topple his more famous compatriot. "To be the first to do that in eight years is fantastic," he said. "But his world record [14:41.66] is still out there. To be honest I want to get down to 14:40 in the next six to 12 months."

Naturally, Perkins was not best pleased. "The most disturbing thing is that's the first time I've been beaten internationally over 1500 metres for eight years and I don't like it," he said.

Australia won half of all the medals in the pool, including 23 golds. England finished second with five gold, eight silver and nine bronze for a total of 22 medals, just two gold medals short of their best games since Brisbane in 1982.