Friendly Games foster spirit of bygone era

From Asafa Powell to the inhabitants of tiny Pacific islands, the Commonwealth gala offers a sporting spectrum. By Mike Rowbottom in Melbourne

"Advance Australia Fair" will be the anthem which greets the Queen's Baton as it arrives at the end of its 108,000-mile journey to the Melbourne Cricket Ground today during the Opening Ceremony of the 18th Commonwealth Games. In order not to offend the owner of said baton as she steps forward to receive it there will also be a rendition of "God Save The Queen" - only eight bars long, granted, but enough to mollify potentially outraged monarchists.

Meanwhile, competitors will have gathered in an athletes' village that, while alcohol-free, is tolerant of sex so long as it is "discreet". The Games appear to have something for everyone. A total of 4,500 athletes from 71 competing nations will engage in 12 days of competition that starts tomorrow in a collection of sporting facilities of awesome size and range.

There has already been criticism of the Games in the Australian press, directed towards the usual topics of excessive cost and a long-term tax burden. The cost will be around £450m, and although reports say that 400,000 tickets are still to be sold, that means 1.3 million already have been - a record for any Commonwealth Games, topping the 900,000 sold in Manchester four years ago. That figure resonates more strongly when one considers that the MCG, which will host the athletics, has sold out all 84,000 seats for the three best days of competition.

Overall, the events will offer a traditional blend of top-class competition and warm-hearted aspiration. The men's 100 metres final could feature the world record holder, Asafa Powell, and his Jamaican colleague Michael Frater, Trinidad's world bronze medallist Darrel Brown and - assuming they get a bit of a move on - two of Britain's Olympic sprint relay gold medallists, Jason Gardener and Mark Lewis-Francis.

But these Games carry a motto - "élite sport is only half the story." The other half is provided by competitors from the likes of Niue, an island of just 2,000 people. Or another Pacific island, Naura, effectively one large phosphate mine, who will once again be sending weightlifters seeking to maintain the medal-winning tradition of Marcus Stephen, who took gold and two silvers in the 1990 Games.

In an age when Olympic competition is increasingly strident, intense and scientific, the Commonwealth Games maintain something of the spirit of earlier Games. And there could hardly be a more appropriate setting for the Friendly Games than this city.

The withdrawal of Paula Radcliffe and Ian Thorpe last week deprived this event of two of its biggest attractions - like toast without Vegemite said one local observer. The home prospects still appear pretty tasty, however, as the resurgent performances of their female swimmers, who are expected to win 15 of their 19 races, have generated predictions that Australia will better their best-ever Commonwealth total of 207 medals, with which they topped the table four years ago in Manchester ahead of England, who earned 166 to finish second.

With Radcliffe's bruised foot depriving them of an almost certain gold medal in the 10,000m, England are contemplating a significantly lower total although Don Parker, the team's sports director, has said he would be disappointed if they got less than 100.

While the Queen's arrangements continued to occupy the organising committee yesterday, the main focus of home media attention fell once more on Australia's own drama queen, Jana Pittman, who declined her invitation to carry the Baton on a 500-metres leg from the town hall, citing a troublesome hamstring.

The woman who has been burdened with the expectation of winning her event - the 400m hurdles - for a grateful nation has had a turbulent period of preparation. The former world champion's feud with her team-mate Tamsyn Lewis made the recent spat between England's Jade Johnson and Kelly Sotherton look pallid in comparison, and her insistence that she was not a drama queen, while announcing her plans to move to England because she felt under-appreciated caused further lampooning from the local media.

Pittman, whose English boyfriend Chris Rawlinson will defend his 400m hurdles title here, appears to be one of two Australians capable of delivering gold in the track and field, the other being Craig Mottram in the 10,000m, where he faces Kenya's world champion, Benjamin Limo.

In the absence of the Olympic champion, Carolina Kluft, and the silver medallist, Eunice Barber, Sotherton - bronze medallist at the last Olympics - has a chance to earn her first major heptathlon title, while the men's sprint relay team could also make the podium if they hold their nerve - and the baton.

The absence of Thorpe and his fellow Australian swimmer Grant Hackett gives British competitors hope. England's Simon Burnett could profit in the 200m freestyle, while Wales's David Davies, an Olympic bronze medallist in the 1500m, could end up on a higher level on the podium.

For the England winger Dan Luger, however, yesterday was frustrating as he failed to make the final 12 who will contest the rugby sevens.

Scotland are hoping that Chris Hoy, the Olympic one-kilometre time trial champion, can get the Games off to a winning start for their team on the cycle track, where his opponents include fellow Scot Craig MacLean and England's Jason Queally, whose opening day victory in this event at the 2000 Sydney Olympics inspired the British team.

Going for gold Down Under

* ASAFA POWELL

Set a world 100m record of 9.77sec last summer so the Jamaican is aiming to win his first gold medal. He finished fifth in the 2004 Olympics, and was injured for the 2005 World Championships.

* LEISEL JONES The 21-year-old from Brisbane is a fine breaststroke swimmer, who broke the 100m and 200m world records at Australia's trials.

* SIMON BURNETT

An Olympic 200m freestyle finalist in Athens, the Briton can profit from the absence of Australia's Grant Hackett and Ian Thorpe.

* DEAN MACEY

After a succession of injury-hit years, in which the Briton managed to finish fourth in successive Olympics, this talented decathlete is seeking his first major title.

* CHRIS HOY

The Olympic and Commonwealth cycling champion in the one-kilometre time trial is expected to defend his title against opposition from England's former Olympic champion Jason Queally and fellow Scot Craig MacLean.

Sport
sportWWE latest including Sting vs Triple H, Brock Lesnar vs Roman Reigns and The Undertaker vs Bray Wyatt
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing