Commonwealth Games: Double gold medallist denies Aussies the 4 x 200m freestyle crown for first time since 1954

Ashes to Splashes: Davenport leads the English charge

It did not take long for the Melbourne Aquatics Centre to empty yesterday. The place was already in a state of near desertion when the medallists from the last event, the final of the men's 4 x 200m freestyle relay, stepped down from the rostrum and headed towards the exit. As they disappeared from view, frozen on the scoreboard was the legend: 1 England, 2 Scotland, 3 Australia.

Australia's male sporting pride has taken some batterings of late - the loss of the Ashes, the failure to convert a world record one-day cricket score into a victory but in Melbourne's Commonwealth Games pool it has been sinking to an all-time low. In fact, halfway through the swimming programme, it is in grave danger of sinking without a trace.

In Manchester four years ago, the male Dolphins, led by Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett, won 14 of 17 events. In home water, with Thorpe ill and Hackett injured, they have won none out of nine contested so far. The glass of Australian swimming would be embarrassingly bare were it not for their wonder women making it up to the half-full, or half-empty, mark. The female Dolphins have won eight out of nine finals, four of them with clean medal sweeps such as the one achieved by Libby Lenton, Jody Henry and Alice Mills in the 100m freestyle yesterday.

The combined Australian team, the men and the women, would not even be clear at the top of the medal table if the swimmers of the United Kingdom were not divided for the quadrennial Commonwealth meet. The raising of the flag of St George for the final ceremony yesterday brought the gold tally to Australia seven, England and Scotland seven.

A white flag might have been appropriate for the relay bronze medallists. Until yesterday, the men's 4 x 200m had been a proud Australian possession since 1954, the Games in which Jim Peters fell within sight of the marathon finish and in which John Landy and Roger Bannister ran their "Miracle Mile". The loss of the coveted Splashes could be judged as a measure of both how far the Aussies have sunk and how far the British nations have risen.

If England's swimmers have been a revelation in Australia's second city, Scotland have not been far behind. Indeed, at the wall in the gripping roller-coaster of a men's 4 x 200m they were a mere 0.26sec behind. If the inspired Robbie Renwick had not been edged out by Ross Davenport, Scotland would have had four golds to England's three.

As it is, England take the 4-3 lead into the last three days, courtesy of Simon Burnett, Alex Scotcher, Dean Milwain and Davenport, winner of the individual 200m freestyle on Friday. "It's immensely satisfying to beat Australia in their own back yard," Davenport reflected, his second gold around his neck. "They've stuffed a lot of us over the years around the globe."

The Anglo-Scottish gold rush on day three started in the opening event, the men's 200m backstroke, Gregor Tait following in the wake of Caitlin McClatchey and David Carry to claim Scottish victory No 3. Scotland having previously never won more than two swimming golds at a single Games, it was fitting that Jack McConnell, the country's First Minister, was on hand to present the historic prize.There was also a silver for Scotland's 200m breaststroker Kirsty Balfour. As for England, their medal charge began with bronze in the 100m backstroke for Melanie Marshall, who then proceeded to anchor the women's 4 x 200m team to silver. Gold for Chris Cook in the 100m breaststroke, with his England team-mate James Gibson in the bronze medal position, had a poignant, bitter-sweet ring to it.

"A year and a half ago I was thinking of jacking it in," the City of Newcastle swimmer confided, after surging from fourth to snatch victory by 0.12sec. "I was in the shadow of the other guys and dropping away. I lost a good friend of mine. That made me realise there's more to life than this. It's just two lengths of a pool. Looking at it that way has changed my whole outlook.

"He was killed at sea in a diving accident, Mick Jackson. He was a fantastic guy. I'd like to dedicate this victory to him."

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