Commonwealth Games: Hosts sink from sight as Britannia rules waves
Monday 20 March 2006
Shock! Horror! Hold the front page! A male Australian swimmer finally got hold of a winner's medal at the end of the fourth of six days of competition at the Commonwealth Games pool yesterday. It was a pity for Ian Thorpe, and for Australia, that the national hero - presently hamstrung by illness - was merely handing it over to England's Rebecca Cooke.
The Aussies, of course, do not do sympathy when it comes to international sporting combat. The fact that they qualify for some in a sport which ranks alongside cricket in terms of national pride (and in their own water-filled back yard, to boot) is a measure of how low their male swimmers have sunk in the Melbourne Aquatic Centre.
Cooke's successful defence of the 800m freestyle title she won in Manchester four years ago took the combined swag of English and Scottish gold into double figures. With two finals sessions remaining, England have six and Scotland four (twice as many as any Caledonian aquatic squad has managed at a single Games before). The host nation has eight out of 10 from the women's programme but nought out of 11 from the men's events. In Manchester in 2002 Australia's male "Dolphins" were more like sharks, devouring 14 of the 17 gold medals on their menu.
Not that this sudden national famine has been acknowledged. The Age and the Herald Sun, the daily newspapers in Melbourne, made no mention yesterday of any of the men's events from Saturday night - even Australia's loss of the 4 x 200m freestyle relay for the first time since 1950 was deemed unworthy of note.
Three of the four finals on the programme yesterday yielded British gold. England's Simon Burnett claimed the first. A native of Chinnor in Oxfordshire but a student at the University of Tucson, Arizona, the 22-year-old Burnett became the first Briton to win the 100m freestyle - and for good measure set a Games record of 48.57sec.
"The relay last night inspired me and I wanted to win an individual gold so badly," he said. "There's definitely a new wave of British swimmers. We've got them from England and Scotland and Wales. And it's going to get better and better."
It certainly did yesterday. There was another momentous win in the men's 400m individual medley, David Carry becoming the first Scot to strike double Commonwealth gold since David Wilkie in 1974. The Aberdonian, the winner of the 400m freestyle on opening night, was joined on the rostrum by his team-mate Euan Dale, who won silver.
Dale has a family history of motoring: his father, Ronnie, is a former holder of the diesel land-speed record. He is also a distant relation of Mike Blair, the scrum-half who helped the Scotland rugby union team to a famous victory against England last month.
Like Carry, Dale is coached in England, at Loughborough University, by Ian Turner, the head coach of the England team in Melbourne. Cooke, who triumphed for England yesterday, is coached in Scotland at the City of Glasgow club. A student of physiology at the University of Glasgow, she happens to be partially deaf - not unlike the natives here. They have turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to Britannia's ruling of the waves.
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