Commonwealth Games: Misfortune turns to golden joy for Hansen

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TWO GOLDS on the final day of the Commonwealth athletics programme here, thanks to the triple jumper Ashia Hansen and the men's 4x100 metres relay team, helped raise England's final track and field medal total to 33.

It was not quite enough for them to finish as the top athletics nation, as Australia's dominance in the pool spilled over to bring them 34 medals in the 100,000-capacity Bukit Jalil arena.

But such statistics were the last thing on the mind of athletes such as Hansen, who missed five months of this year with a heel injury, or indeed Kelly Holmes, the silver medallist in a high quality 1500m race, and happy just to finish in one piece after recovering from an Achilles tendon injury which, even as late as May, threatened not just her season, but her career.

Holmes' silver was matched by Steve Backley, frustrated in his quest to win a third Commonwealth javelin title by the man who beat him to last year's world title, Marius Corbett of South Africa. There was silver, too, for John Mayock in the 1500m, and both the men's and women's 400m relay teams.

Hansen required just one jump to secure her gold, a distance of 14.32m which proved too much for her five rivals, three of whom were English. It was a conservative performance compared with the one she produced at the European indoor championships in Valencia at the end of February, where she set the indoor world record of 15.15m.

But that moment of triumph contained its own element of misfortune - in setting the record, she sustained a heel injury which all but wrecked the rest of the season for her. Prior to yesterday, she had had just two low-key competitions - and her uncertainty evidenced itself when she no- jumped her opening two attempts.

"I was so nervous that my legs were like jelly," she said. Needing to register a distance at her third attempt in order to stay in the competition, she rose to the challenge. Francoise Mbango of Cameroon was closest to her, with 13.95, one centimetre ahead of England's bronze medallist Conny Henry.

Thus Hansen began and ended her season with gold - even though she limped away having hurt her hamstring.

Holmes, by contrast, reported no ill effects after a courageous run where she kept herself in medal contention throughout but was unable to produce the final sprint which might have taken her past Kenya's Jackline Maranga, who earlier this season lowered Holmes' Commonwealth 1500m record to 3 min 57.41 sec.

"Considering all the problems I've had, I was pleased with my performance," Holmes said. "I was obviously lacking speed and sharpness at the end, but the most important thing is that I have ended the season on a positive note.

"I have been dreaming about getting on top of the podium all the time. I just wasn't ready to be there on this occasion, and I was disappointed at first. But then I thought: `You are lucky to be here, you are lucky to be in one piece.' That means everything - even more than the medal."

Like Hansen, Holmes suffered from pre-match nerves. "Two days ago I just felt sick," she said. "I was thinking to myself: `Oh my God, what am I doing'?" On the day, however, she showed herself once again to be one of British athletics' great competitors.

Backley is another in that category. Seeking to complete his third consecutive double of European and Commonwealth titles, he was confounded by a second round throw of 88.75m by the 6ft 5in, 22-year-old from Queenstown - which was 35 centimetres further than Corbett had thrown to win last year in Athens.

The Britain responded with a consistent sequence of throws - 86.86, 86.26, then 87.38 - but had to shrug his shoulders in the end. "I thought I had Marius covered," Backley said. "But he's done it again. I'm disappointed, but I can't complain too much after winning the Europeans and the World Cup. What I really want is a world or Olympic gold, and if losing here spurs me on to do that, I'll take it."

Backley's friend and training partner, Mick Hill, added to his European silver by taking bronze in 83.80m.

Mayock, who began the season by winning a gold medal at the European indoor championships, came in search of another here, but felt he was out of contention by the bell, at which point he had allowed Laban Rotich of Kenya too great a lead. Rotich won in 3:39.49, with Mayock out-sprinting his domestic rival Anthony Whiteman to the silver in the home straight.

The men's sprint quartet of Dwain Chambers, Marlon Devonish, Julian Golding and Darren Campbell broke the Games record with their time of 38.20sec, witnessed by the Queen - who later awarded them their medals. Britain's women sprinters, anchored by Joice Maduaka, earned a bronze behind Australia and Jamaica.

The women's 400m team had to thank an inspired final leg from Donna Fraser, the individual 400m bronze medallist, who made up a 12-metre gap on Canada's Foy Williams to take second place behind Australia.

The English quartet of Paul Slythe, Solomon Wariso, Mark Hylton and Mark Richardson were unable to match Jamaica, who won in a Games record of 2 min 59.03 sec. Richardson was followed home by Iwan Thomas, the individual gold medallist, who secured the second bronze of the day for Wales - the first having come from Sean Pickering in the shot putt.