Commonwealth Games: Pittman lets her legs do the talking
Friday 24 March 2006
A home crowd of around 80,000 souls gave a collective thumbs-up here last night as Jana Pittman, whose frailties and foibles have left the Australian public variously amused or aggrieved in recent weeks, retained her 400 metres hurdles title in a Games record of 53.82sec.
Watching the former world champion go about her business was her English coach and fiancé, Chris Rawlinson, the defending men's champion in the 400m hurdles, who had announced his retirement earlier in the evening after finishing a distant last in his final, in which he was carrying an abdominal injury.
Pittman crossed the line with a look of infinite relief almost two seconds clear of her nearest challengers - England's Natasha Danvers-Smith, who fell in this race at the Manchester 2002 Games while in third place, and Scotland's Lee McConnell, who took bronze one place ahead of England's Nicole Sanders.
There has been a soap-operatic quality in Pittman's recent public exploits: catfight rows with team-mate Tamsyn Lewis, failing to run her leg of the Queen's Baton relay or to turn up for the Opening Ceremony and announcing that she will be exchanging Australia for England once she and Rawlinson marry in a ceremony taking place a week today.
Accordingly, it seemed that the occasion would either be ecstatic or excruciating, and to Pittman's delight it was the former. The woman who had entered the stadium fearful that she might be booed followed up with perhaps the most painstaking lap of honour ever witnessed, slapping every palm, signing every piece of paper, kissing every proffered cheek. At one point she even retraced her steps to pick up a child's pen that had been dropped before using it to mark a flag with her name.
"Hopefully if I can let my legs do the talking in future. I can rebuild myself," she said. "I'm such a proud Aussie."
Danvers-Smith, who finished in 55.17sec, was a proud Englishwoman after a silver medal performance that came a year and three months after giving birth.
"People were saying you couldn't come back from having a baby," said the 28-year-old Londoner. "They said I was washed up. You look at people like Kelly Holmes - she did what she did at 34. She's an inspiration to me, and I'll be around in Beijing and hopefully the London Olympics. We Brits can beat Jana."
For the first time in 32 years, no Englishman stood on the rostrum for the 200m - indeed, for the first time in 40 years, no Englishman had made the final.
Marlon Devonish was the last English sprinter left standing here, having reached the 100m final, in which he trailed in last, and the 200m semi-final, in which he only finished sixth.
In the shorter sprint, his colleagues Jason Gardener and Mark Lewis-Francis exited due to a back injury and a false start respectively. In the 200m, Chris Lambert failed to start his second round heat because of injury and Darren Campbell was disqualified for running out of his lane in a race where he would not have gone through anyway.
The statistics added to Devonish's discomfort. "It makes it sink in how crap we are now," he said.
Jamaica's Omar Brown claimed the bronze, his time of 20.47sec identical to that of Stephen Buckland of Mauritius. But Brown was given the medal, bizarrely, because he had "more momentum at the finish".
England will be hoping to emulate him in the final two days of competition, particularly in the relays. The Welsh were celebrating their third athletics medal - a silver for Julie Crane in the high jump. But the athlete herself was feeling aggrieved after judges said she had technically taken her third jump at 1.91m when she checked and attempted to run up again.
Anika Smith of South Africa did manage the height to claim gold. But it was no more than England's 20-year-old Jessica Ennis had achieved en route to claiming the heptathlon bronze the day before.
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