Commonwealth Games: Nieland and Idowu strike telling blow for maturity

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The Independent Online

As a javelin thrower supreme, Steve Backley hit the bulls-eye with three Commonwealth Games titles. As a novice coach, he has a pretty good aim, too, it would seem. Watching from the BBC Radio commentary point in the Melbourne Cricket Ground yesterday, the man with the golden arm watched Nick Nieland, the former rival he now guides, take the crown he won himself on home soil in Manchester four years ago.

It must have been a satisfying sight. Until yesterday, the high-point of Nieland's career had been taking Commonwealth bronze behind Backley and Scott Russell of Canada in 2002. Two months past his 34th birthday, he came good here with a first-round throw of 80.06m - the kind of instant statement of intent that was the Backley hallmark.

None of the other 12 finalists managed to propel their spears beyond 80m, although William Hamlyn-Harris of Canada came tantalisingly close in the sixth and final round, landing his at 79.89m for consolation silver. For good measure, Nieland nailed an 80.10m effort with his last throw.

So what did it feel like to be Commonwealth champion at the age of 34? "It feels great," the Shaftesbury Barnet Harrier said, "but less of the reference to my age. I'm in the shape of my life, so age is irrelevant, really. I've got Steve coaching me and he's picked up on a few things in my technique. I think I won him some money tonight. I don't know how much, but I'm asking for half of it."

As a devout Christian, Jonathan Edwards, who was sitting near Backley as part of the BBC television commentary team, probably did not have a vested interest in Phillips Idowu succeeding him as triple-jump champion. Idowu has had his moments in the international arena but not enough of them to risk betting your house on him, or even your daughter's Wendy House, for that matter.

In Manchester four years ago the north Londoner looked on the cusp of a major breakthrough, losing only to Edwards' last- round effort of 17.86m after jumping a personal best of 17.68m in the second round. That promise remains frustratingly unfulfilled. Idowu went to the Athens Olympics as a serious medal prospect in 2004 but failed even to register a mark in the qualifying round.

Yesterday the Belgrave Harrier recorded four no-jumps, but with a first-round mark of 17.45m the gold medal was in the bag for the highly talented, highly inconsistent 27-year-old. "You don't know what to expect?" he said, echoing a questioner afterwards. "Neither do I. This means a lot to me, because it's been difficult since Manchester. I haven't been injury free and I've struggled to find form. Right now, I'm still only 75 per cent fit but it was enough to take the gold."

After the retrospective disqualification suffered by the women's 4 x 400m relay team, it proved to be the sixth and final gold for the England track and field team in Melbourne - six fewer than they won on home ground in Manchester in 2002. With silver for the young, inspired women's 4 x 100m relay team, the total medal haul was 18 - 11 down on Manchester and the lowest since the Edinburgh Games of 1970.

It might have been higher but in a dramatic men's 1500m final, Nick McCormick's bold bid saw him fade from first to fifth on the last lap. Still, it was worse for the big hope for home gold, Craig Mottram. He tripped after 800m and finished ninth. England's Andy Baddeley fell in the same mêlée and feared another break in the left wrist only partially protected by a plaster cast.

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