Commonwealth Games: Friendly Games left bereft of all illusion: Ten days that went horribly wrong for England and for a sprinter from Sierra Leone

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The Independent Online
THE 15th Commonwealth Games will be remembered not for the fabulous performance of Australia's swimmers, Kenya's runners, Canada's boxers, India's weightlifters or South Africa's bowls players. No, they will be remembered for Diane Modahl and Paul Edwards. And Horace Dove-Edwin.

In many ways, the case of Dove- Edwin was the most depressing of the lot. For a few days we let ourselves be hoodwinked into thinking that here was a character who epitomised the Games. He talked of helping bring peace to Africa. He made no money. He had no coach. He had no agent. What he forgot to tell us was that he does have access to the medicine cabinet.

Which is why he was dragged before the Commonwealth Games court and asked to explain why his drugs test, taken after he finished second in the 100 metres to Linford Christie, showed traces of steroids. He could not, and was stripped of Sierra Leone's first-ever medal. The man who had improved by more than a quarter of a second in 24 hours was just another fraud.

The ghost of Ben Johnson had again haunted a major championship. Six years after Canada had bared its soul, there was further evidence that the drug menace that stalks athletics is still very much part and parcel of the sport.

When Modahl and Edwards were sent home, the smile of the friendly Games slipped for just a moment, with a few Canadians having a giggle behind their hands at England's expense. The memory is still fresh in these parts of the self-righteous stance the British took over the Johnson affair.

British athletics now faces its own crisis of confidence among its competitors, officials and the media. The first thing that has to be done when this summer is over, as Sally Gunnell said, is sort out where we go from here. The Johnson case has all but ruined Canadian athletics, and the sport is finding it a tough road back. This has got to be nipped quickly in the bud.

Every athlete caught using drugs further taints the performance of those who are not. The Commonwealth Games deserves to be more than just another pharmacist's convention.

The standard in the Centenial Stadium for the athletics varied from world class - such as Linford Christie's performance in winning the 100m in 9.91sec, the second-fastest of his career, and Frankie Fredericks's 19.97 in the 200m - to the absymal - such as the long jump where the winning leap of 8.05m would have struggled to win the US high school championships.

The arrival of Christie gave the games a real sense of occasion. It was a pity he did not stay longer than three days, but dollars have to be earned in the professional world of track and field. At least he showed his face, unlike Kenya's six world or Olympic champions, or Merlene Ottey, of Jamaica.

For every Ottey there is a Hugh Marsden. The Falkland Islander finished last in the marathon, yet could have claimed to have produced the performance of the games. Three months ago, he was working underneath a vehicle when a drill-bit slipped and shot back into his left eye, causing severe lacerations.

With no eye specialist available locally, Marsden was flown to England for an operation. But the altitude of the flight caused the eye to haemorrhage and he lost his sight. The 35-year-old, who trains up and down the airport runway at Port Stanley, clung on to his 20- year dream of running in the Commonwealth Games. Incredibly, despite missing four weeks' training because of the accident, Marsden ran a personal best by 14 minutes.

The four home countries of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland won 174 medals across the board - still eight less than Australia, whose 87 gold medals were more than twice as many as the next best, Canada, and nearly three times as many as England's 31. The standard they set in the pool - they won 25 out of a possible 34 gold medals, led by the individual star of these games, Kieran Perkins - was awesome.

Their success has not been achieved by accident, nor has it been cheap. Thanks to the government-funded Australian Institute of Sport, Australia is now churning out world-class athletes in sports across a wide spectrum. The AIS has more than 500 elite sports people on its books, some receiving pounds 25,000 a year to help fund their preparation for major events. This, almost eastern European approach, is expected to yield plenty of gold medals for Australia when the Sydney Olympics roll round in 2000.

England brought the track and field programme to a red and white conclusion on Sunday when they won six of the gold medals on the last day. Steve Backley, in the javelin, Julian Golley in the triple jump, Matt Simson in the shot, Kelly Holmes in the 1500m and both 4 x 400m teams were all winners.

It is to the credit of Simson, who improved his personal best three times during the competition to win with 19.49m, that he did not try to duck the drugs issue afterwards. 'There is tremendous pressure on shot-putters to pump themselves with drugs,' he admitted. 'I felt that pressure myself. But luckily I've got my family to back me up, and it's an easier temptation to resist on a day like this.'

We said hello to South Africa again after 36 years' absence. Thanks to their bowlers, they did not return home empty-handed. And we said goodbye to Hong Kong. They depart the Commonwealth in 1997 when Britain hands the colony back to China.

We meet again in 1998 in Kuala Lumpur, from where one piece of good news has come recently: anyone caught using drugs will not be sentenced to death by the Malaysian government. That the announcement was made shows how much drugs have scarred these Games.

(Photograph omitted)

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