2002 commonwealth games review

The Commonwealth games are no well and truly behind us and the time has come to reflect on what was a tremendous week’s competition, in particular of the home nations. The Australian team was always going to finish top of the tree in Manchester, but they were rolled over in several events where they might have expected to win golds. On more than once occasion, there were no green and gold tracksuits on the medal podium, something that is a very rare sight at a Commonwealth games. Ian Thorpe was of course outstanding, but we have come to expect no less from the world’s best athletes, so the impact of his performances is lessened by a sense of expectation that he will win gold and set world records. Thorpe aside there were many, many highlights from the swimming competition, and below we pick our best moments, albeit biased towards an impressive showing from the home nations.

race of the week

Karen Pickering leads Petria Thomas onto the anchor leg of the 4×200

The competition was exciting and threw up many great confrontations, the individual medley finals in particular providing as usual some enthralling racing. The women’s 200 IM final was particularly interesting as Zimbabwe’s Kirsty Coventry toot the race from lane 8, but as usual it was a relay that produced the outstanding race of the week. The men’s races were but a formality for a Thorpe inspired team, but the women’s 4×200 freestyle relay had a bit of everything to keep you interested. There was an air of a grudge match about the whole thing, as Australia looked to get their own back for their disqualification from the gold medal position in Fukuoka last year. Equally there was a sense that an England team, with two non freestyle specialists should not be strong enough to challenge but they had taken the first two places in the individual 200m, so there were still hopes that the team could take the title. The race itself could not have been closer; for 750m the teams were never separated by more than 0.3s, as Georgina Lee and Jo Fargus produced magnificent swims in the middle of the team to keep in touch with the Aussies. Eventually they even sent anchor leg Stalwart Karen Pickering in with a slight lead. Price swam a superb tactical race, burning off a tiring Petria Thomas in the last 50m to take a well-deserved gold. Fantastic stuff.

swim of the week

Adam Whitehead: gold and silver

Adam Whitehead’s incredible breastroke semi-final swim, which saw him looking relaxed and powerful as he set a lifetime best of 61.05, seemingly without meaning to, sticks in the memory. Zoë Baker’s tremendous world record in the 50m breastroke was particularly special, as was Sarah Price’s majestic victory at the head of an English 1-2-3 in the 200m backstroke, but that man Thorpe was always likely to feature in this category. His 400m freestyle world record on the first day set the competition off on exactly the right note, and was made even more incredible following the comments made about the pool before the meet. Australian NPD Greg Hodge had criticised the facility, saying it was not built for word records, but that didn’t faze the Thorpedo as he swam away from the field on the first 50m, and never looked back. Only a tired looking finish prevented the first ever swim under 3:40, but that can surely not be a long time in coming.

swimmer of the week

Sarah Price: 2 golds and 5 records

In pure medal terms it would be Thorpe, who became the most medalled male swimmer in Commonwealth history with his 6 golds taking him to a personal tally of 10, equalling the haul achieved by that other Australian great Susie O’Neill, but we all expected him to do it. Equally Petria Thomas is a strong contender, being the only swimmer to have a clean sweep of titles in a particular category, with golds in the 50, 100 and 200 fly. It could easily have been an amazing young South African lady, Nathalie du Toit, who was one of the stars of the games, let alone the swimming, with two medals in the multi-disability events and a spot in the open 800m final. She will have a tremendous future in the sport, but for me the swimmer of the week had to be a home swimmer, as the team had performed so well. With that decision made it had to be Sarah Price, who dominated the ladies backstroke events setting 5 games records in 5 races on her way to 100m and 200m gold. We will never know whether the bizarre scheduling of the 50m and 200m finals in the same session prevented a clean sweep, but the Barnet Copthall swimmer finally showed she has the temperament and the talent to perform on the big stage. We look forward to her exploits in next years world championships with some optimism.

surprise of the week

The disappointments were few and far between during the week, with the meet seeming to run like clockwork and every race having a talking point, but the performance of the Canadian team was nothing short of disastrous form their point of view. The Canadians had performed very well at the World Short Course championships earlier in the year and had high hopes of improving on their 1998 medal haul from Kuala Lumpur, but were well under par at this competition. They left with no gold medals for the first time since 1954 and picked up only 18 in total, three fewer than the last games. Canadian head coach Dave Johnson is quoted as saying, “We’re going to have to take a serious look at our program”. It will be interesting to see how well they can pick themselves up for Barcelona next year.

British swim of the week

Alison Sheppard on her way to sprint gold

With so many impressive English performances in the Manchester pool, it would be easy to plump for a red suited winner in this category, but it would be invidious to overlook the performance of Scotland’s Alison Sheppard. She went into the games as a clear favourite for the 50m freestyle gold, but dealt with the expectation of an entire nation in incredible fashion to take the first Scottish swimming gold since 1974, and the first by a woman for some 48 years. Not only did she take the gold in style, but she also recorded a truly world class time in the process, beating her own Commonwealth and British record with a swim of 24.68 in the heats. To put that in context, it would have easily won gold at the European Championships, ahead of eventual winner Therese Alshammer of Sweden, and was also faster than anything produced in Berlin. She is one British Swimmer to have really increased her standing on the world stage this last week, and it was great to see the St Andrew’s cross on top of the medal podium.