The opening ceremony brought together some of the greatest athletes of all time to carry the baton into and around the stadium. Distance runners Herb Elliot, Ron Clarke, John Landy and sprinters Cathy Freeman and Marjorie Jackson all had a hand in transporting the baton from the water to the queen, but only after clever illusion had Aussie Rules hero, Ron Barrassi, walk on water from pontoon boats up to the Yarra Bridge.
The swimming quartet of Linden Ferns, Gerhard Zandberg, Ryk Neethling and Roland Schoeman got the motivational medal on day 1 of the competition in the 4×100. All week the Australian team had talked up their chances for the relay, their ambitions to take all 19 women’s swim medals, and Libby Lenton to take six gold medals. In the space of an hour, their plans were blown out of the water. Scotland’s Caitlin McClatchey won the 200m freestyle, and then the South African quartet set a new Games record to win the relay in 3:14.97. “We’re the villains from South Africa who struck Gold, It was a lot closer than we would have liked, but we got the medal for our country and we’re proud of it,” said Schoeman “we love what we’re doing – it’s Magic”
South Africans filled three out of eight lanes in the 400m hurdle final and few events were as inspirational for Team SA as the sight of Alwyn Myburgh and then LJ van Zyl working on either side of pre-event favourite Kemel Thompson to eclipse him into bronze medal. “The sight of the green and gold flanking either side of the Jamaican for Gold and Silver, is my special memory of the games” said chef de mission, Gideon Sam “We knew from the beginning we had to watch for Thompson and I knew I had to watch for Myburgh,” joked van Zyl who took the Gold
Sherwin Vries must have thought he was in the SA Games and not the Commonwealth with his post 100m heat quote: “It’s was good, I felt confident, There was a lot of energy, I’m going for Gold” Alas poor Sherwin did you forget World recordholder Asafa Powell and friends were competing? A small matter of 0.31 seconds difference in Personal Bests!
Craig Mottram’s attempt to win the 5000m on the second day of athletics was motivation for anyone believing that Kenyans are unbeatable in distance events. The previous Australian junior triathlon champion took the race by the scruff of the neck and shook it up. Taking the lead with over 800m to go, matching move for move with Kenyan Augustine Choge, and with World Champion Benjamin Limo hanging on in third, he had the stadium on their feet. Only a new games record of 12:56.41 by Choge and 1.78 seconds kept the Gold from Mottram. A classic race.
Although Australian athletes provided some astonishing achievements during the games, the local TV coverage and commentary hit all time lows. Unlike the spectators the coverage only followed the Aussie athletes. When Lize-Mari Retief tied for Bronze with Alice Mills some papers only listed the Australian 1-2-3.
After dismissal of concerns that Jana Pittman would be disqualified from the 400m for running out of lane the comment was “Its OK it appears it’s an athlete from some other country.” The ‘insignificant athlete’ was Cypriot Androula Sialou, in Pittman’s adjacent lane.
In the cycling road race, the final event of the games, the coverage was on the peleton until an Australian joined South Africans David George and Ryan Cox in a break away, and once Mathew Hayman made his stunning break, the cameras constantly followed every revolution of his wheel, leaving viewers to puzzle for themselves who or where the chasing group were.
The bias was so bad that even the Australian public phoned and wrote to complain.
The marathon was memorable on many levels
Up Front: “I came to the stadium thinking ‘silvers pretty darn good, I’d be happy with silver’, I came through the tunnel and heard the crowd roar – that wasn’t me running the final 300m” – so said Kerryn McCann who had a stride to stride battle with Helen Koskei over the final kilometres of the marathon, with McCann, and the crowd, winning by one second in 2:30:54.
For determination: “I think if someone had turned me around I could have run faster” said dehydrated Kate Smythe of her dramatic last lap cramping stagger over the line,
And at last… a purposeful SA marathoner: Tanith Maxwell from KZN became the only SA marathon runner in recent time to run close to their PB and expectation. Her 2:41:47 was only 40 seconds off her best, whereas Neo Molema was 15 minutes adrift, Charne Rademeyer 11 minutes over her best and Tseko Mpolokeng added his name to the list of SA marathon ‘did not finishers’ Maxwell received a medal and certificate from SASCOC and ASA for excellence.
“Our side is a developing side that’s young and learning” “Now its about knowing we had a good tournament and building on our experience for the future” Those are quotes from hockey coaches Paul Revington, and Jenny King, after their teams played for the minor places. Unfortunately they strongly resemble quotes for the last three games which had similar outcomes. Gideon Sam also questioned the preparation processes and returns of (all) team sports. Many seem to substantiate the wise man who said ‘The future never comes’
If there is a record for the most technical infringements in an event then the athletic relays must have it.
England and Nigeria dropped the baton in the men’s 4×100 heats prompting Lee-Roy Newton to speculate “With these teams out, it makes tomorrow’s job so much easier, Now if Jamaica can also drop the baton tomorrow … “. Jamaica hung onto the baton to take gold ahead of South Africa, but Australia, Ghana, Trinidad & Tobago, Vanuatu and New Zealand all failed to finish during the heats or the final.
All other relays had similar outcomes with England and South Africa disqualified in the women’s 4 x 400, Ghana failing to finish the women’s 4×100 and Botswana, Bahamas, and Trindad & Tobago all cut from the men’s 4×400, where the jostling between Australia Mark Ormrod and South African Paul Gorries looked like a playground fight. Seems that teams who abide by the rules for the full distance have a great chance of winning medals!
MARVELOUS MWELASE MAGIC
Bongani Mwelase’s bout against Vijender of India brought South Africa’s final Gold. They had met in Glasgow in November at the Commonwealth Championships where Mwelase had knocked out his challenger in two rounds, but this time it was an exciting four round match, 4-4, 12-8, 8-9, and 9-5. “I took it for granted .. I was expecting to win because boxing doesn’t change. I was Commonwealth champion previously, and I am still the Commonwealth champion” said a relieved and tired Mwelase was the toast of Team SA on Saturday night.
80,000 people crammed the MCG stadium for the athletics each day cheering and lifting athletes, particularly Australians, to outstanding performances. The doughnut shaped stadium maximising the effect of the roar.
A British journalist, mistaking an official for a local Melbourne resident, enquired. “Is there a name for the roar of this crowd?” “Yes” came the quick response “It’s called an irritating racket!” The ‘local’ was in fact another foreign supporter hoping his athletes could wrench a medal from the home crowd.
For eleven days Australia had advanced fair –the 210 plus Gold medals, plus the endless repeats on the rather one-sided TV coverage by Channel Nine meant exposure to well over 20 renditions a day or around two per waking hour. No wonder and English journalist was heavily rebuked in the media centre for being found humming the tune while trying to file his next story home! Not even the number one hit gets as much exposure, but be sure India are already holding national anthem singing lessons for four years time in New Dehli.
MOST SUCCESSFUL EVER:
Although not the greatest total number of medals, the 11 Gold medals is the most any South African team have won in the Commonwealth Games. Swimming and athletics were the sports making the largest contribution to the medal haul. It was also the most successful athletics ever: – Using the IAAF points system of 8 for gold and 1 point for an eighth placed finish, SA athletes scored 156 points to rank fourth behind Australia (441), England (245), and Jamaica (191). Kenya, Canada, and Nigeria followed in the list of 35 countries to score points.
Apart from the Games and organising the weather, Melbourne displayed its splendour over the two weeks of the games. The vast metropolitan area is punctuated by lungs of greenery and park with the magnificent artery of the Yarra River running through the centre. This paradise of sporting facilities has cyclists, runners, walkers, rowers, and canoeists out in action each morning. The city is a mix of Victorian and modern architecture, open boulevards, a melting pot of cultures, and an amazing level of hospitality. Melbourne 2006 was magnificent in their welcome.