Commonwealth Games: O'Neill turns the tables on Pickering

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The Independent Online
KAREN PICKERING had only 24 hours to enjoy being Commonwealth champion before she was brought back to earth here on Saturday.

No sooner had she seen the English flag rise above the Saanich arena to acclaim her totally unexpected victory in the 100 metres freestyle than she was having to come to terms with being beaten in the 200m, the event she had expected to win. In a twist of fortune, the woman who beat her, Susan O'Neill, of Australia, had been beaten in her stronger discipline by Pickering.

Pickering's time of 2min 01.50sec was well short of what she is capable of. It was a strange race. Most of Pickering's successes have been based on a strategy which involves her coming from behind. Yet here she led for the first 50 metres, an almost unheard of scenario.

O'Neill and her team-mate, Nicole Stevenson, were ahead by the third length, but off the final turn, the excited crowd must have been expecting to see the characteristic Pickering surge which last December had swept her to the world short-course title. Instead, her arms appeared heavy and unresponsive and the Australians pulled further away, O'Neill winning in 2min 00.86sec from Stevenson's 2:01.34.

'I just didn't have my usual kick over the last 25 metres' Pickering said. 'I can only put that down to the effects of yesterday.'

As she does not normally do so well in the shorter sprint in major championships, Pickering was not used to dealing with the pressures that go with success in that particular event on the eve of her speciality. There were press interviews to be done, a drugs test to be completed and a swim-down fitted in. She did not get to bed until 11.30pm and was back up five and a half hours later for the morning heats. 'It's all mentally draining as much as physically,' Pickering said.

Australia owed Pickering one. By winning the very first final in the pool, she had put an end to their dream of completing an unprecedented clean sweep. Some consolation came in the form of Saturday's grand slam, though Canadian swimmers twice came close to preventing it. First, in the 100m butterfly when Stephen Clarke was leading until the last 10 metres when he was nipped by Scott Miller. Second, in the 400m individual medley when a tired Curtis Myden blew a three and a half second lead on the last length to be beaten by Matthew Dunn.

The outstanding swim, though, came in the women's 200m breaststroke when Samantha Riley clocked the third fastest time in history - 2min 25.53sec - and missed the world record by just 76 one-hundredths of a second. That her record survived was some consolation for the runner-up, Rebecca Brown, also of Australia.

Australia's fifth gold medal came in the men's 4 x 200m relay. The English team of Andrew Clayton, Steven Mellor, Nicholas Shackell and James Slater won bronze medals.

Yesterday's heats of the men's 200m backstroke saw a surprise fastest time from England's Adam Ruckwood, the 19-year-old British record holder, who clocked 2:02.20. Canada's Chris Renaud delighted the crowd when he came in ahead of Scott Miller, of Australia, Saturday's 100m butterfly gold medallist, to win his heat in 2:02.95. Miller, who will also compete in the 200m butterfly, clocked 2:03.18. The Auckland bronze medallist, Kevin Draxinger, was fourth fastest for Canada in 2:03.23.

(Photograph omitted)

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