The XVII Commonwealth Games burst into life with a dazzling 2 hour opening ceremony featuring a cast of 4000 performers, with musical interludes from S Club 7 and Russell Watson, and cameo appearances from sporting stars such as Steve Redgrave and Ellen McArthur. Then, after the athletes of 72 Commonwealth nations had paraded around the City of Manchester Stadium, Michael Fennel, Chairman of the Commonwealth Games Federation, invited the Queen to receive the Baton she had dispatched on its 63,000 mile journey 4 months earlier.
The 38,000 strong crowd gasped audibly as a giant helium balloon gently descended into the stadium, carrying with it an aerialist clutching the Queens Jubilee Baton. After passing through the hands of several top class athletes it was finally handed over to Manchester United’s David Beckham for the final leg of its journey. No-one in the stadium could fail to have been moved when David took the hand of terminally ill six year old Kirsty Howard and led her the short distance to present the baton to the Queen. It was an unforgettable moment and a wonderful way to herald ten days of top class sporting action.
Below is a selection of some of the memorable performances and incidents that took place during those ten terrific days of sport.
List of countries
Consisting of the following countries: Botswana, Cameroon, Gambia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Consisting of the following countries: Belize, Bermuda, Canada, Falkland Islands, Guyana, St Helena.
Consisting of the following countries: Bangladesh, Brunei, India, Malaysia, Maldives, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka.
Consisting of the following countries: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Dominica, Grenada, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks & Caicos.
Consisting of the following countries: England, Cyprus, Gibraltar, Guernsey, Isle of Man, Jersey, Malta, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales.
Consisting of the following countries: Australia, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Nauru, New Zealand, Niue, Norfolk Islands, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu.
Sport: Highlights & Heroes
• As expected, the Australians were the nation to beat, dominant in Swimming and Cycling, formidable at track and field and strong contenders in the team sports. England and the home nations, boosted by the support of partisan crowds, also performed well, particularly in Athletics, Squash, Judo and Boxing. Of all the competing nations, India showed the most marked improvement in their overall performance, winning 30 gold medals in Manchester, as opposed to the 7 they achieved at Kuala Lumpar in 1998. The Pacific island of Nauru could boast the most impressive medal haul relative to its population. This small republic of 11,000 people won 15 medals; that’s one medal for every 750 of its inhabitants!
• Undoubtedly the star of the Games was Australia’s 19 year old swimming phenomenon, Ian Thorpe. ‘Thorpedo’ won six gold medals in the pool, breaking two world records and two Games records in the process. His seemingly unstoppable quest for a record seventh Gold was thwarted however, when he was narrowly beaten by fellow countryman Matt Welsh in the 100m backstroke final.
• The highlight of the Games was expected to be the 100m sprint duel between Dwain Chambers and Mark Lewis Francis. These talented English stars were the hot favourites to take Gold and Silver, but events took an unforeseen turn. Kim Collins, of St.Kitts and Nevis reacted fastest to the gun and immediately put the British sprinters under pressure. Then Chambers and Lewis Francis stunned the home crowd by pulling up leaving Collins clear to take the title in a time of 9.98 seconds. This was the first ever Gold medal won by St.Kitts & Nevis at a major championship, a tiny Caribbean island whose entire population could fit into the City of Manchester Stadium!
• South African swimmer Natalie Du Toit produced a series of fantastic individual performances to win both the 50m & 100m Multi disability freestyle titles. Du Toit had competed in the Kuala Lumpar Games as an able bodied athlete but lost her left leg at the knee in a motorcycle accident in February 2001. Despite this she refused to give up on the sport she loved and remained determined to compete at the Manchester Games. Du Toit also entered the able bodied 800m, reaching the final and finishing a creditable 8th in a personal best time. For this achievement, and for winning 2 gold medals and claiming 2 world records, Du Toit was voted ‘Outstanding Athlete of the Games’.
• Debbie Ferguson of the Bahamas was another athlete who helped to set the standards in Manchester. The World 200m silver medallist dominated the Women’s sprint events winning the 100m and 200m titles and claiming yet another gold as part of the 4×100 relay team. In doing so she became the first athlete to win all three titles at a Commonwealth Games since Australia’s Raelene Boyle achieved the same feat at Edinburgh in 1970.
• The real highlight of the Games, as far as the home fans were concerned, was Paula Radcliffe’s magnificent victory in the Women’s 5000m final. Crowd favourite Radcliffe had always been the perennial runner up at major championships, a gutsy front runner who always seemed to be beaten to the line in the final stages. This time it was different. Once again Radcliffe led from the front, but the following pack, including the dangerous Kenyan Edith Masai, struggled to keep the pace. After 5 laps only Masai was still in contention, but even she could not hold on as Radcliffe covered lap after lap at world record pace. After a mile she was out on her own with only the clock to beat and the roar of the crowd urging her on. Although she narrowly missed out on the world record, Paula crossed the line in a personal best time and finally won the major title that had eluded her for so long.
• It was a great disappointment when Cathy Freeman, the Olympic 400m champion decided not to attend the Games after her husband was diagnosed with inoperable throat cancer. However, he eventually persuaded her to go, and although she played no part in the individual event she was included in the line up for the Australian 4×400 relay team. World Champions Jamaica were the favourites and Freeman had no great expectations to win a gold medal. For their part, the Manchester crowd were delighted that they would be able to see one of the world’s sporting greats in action after all. She did not let them down. In the event the Jamaican team dropped the baton and the Australians and Freeman took gold, with England in silver medal position.
• Several sports made their Commonwealth Games debuts in Manchester, including mountain biking, table tennis and women’s weightlifting. Then there was the Triathlon, a 1.5km swim followed by a 40km bike ride and 10km run. This tough test of endurance was successfully introduced at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and was just as big a draw in Manchester where 70,000 spectators watched the events unfold at Salford Quays. Both the men’s and women’s competitions were won by Canadians. Olympic champion Simon Whitfield took the men’s title in a time of 1:51:57, while Carol Montgomery led the women home, finishing 20 seconds in front of Wales’ Linda Cave.
• Major championships rarely pass off without some kind of controversy and the 2002 Games was no exception. The most notable example of this occurred during extra time in the Women’s Hockey Final between England and India. The scores were locked at 2:2 when India were awarded a penalty corner which was duly converted by Mambta Kharab. The hooter sounded at almost the same moment and although the goal was ruled out by the umpires they reversed their decision after a protest from the Indian players and officials. The England team then launched a protest of their own, claiming the hooter had signalled the end of the half before the goal was scored. They remained on the pitch for over half an hour whilst their appeal was considered but the officials decided that the result would stand. England deliberated on the possibility of a second appeal, but in keeping with the spirit of the Games, accepted defeat and offered congratulations to the Indian players.
The closing ceremony took place in a deluge of rain but even this failed to dampen the spirits of yet another 38,000 sell out crowd. Spectators were treated to music from Dave Stewart, Will Young, Toploader and Heather Small and an impressive song and dance set piece involving the stars of Coronation Street. Amongst the other memorable scenes that night was the sight of hundreds of children dressed in red white and blue coming together to form a giant British flag and a presentation of 1,700 lanterns spelling out the words ‘Seek Peace’ on the arena floor. It all ended with a stunning display of pyrotechnics, which lit up the Manchester sky and brought an appropriately spectacular ending to one of the most successful sporting events of modern times.
Speaking after the closing ceremony Australian Prime Minister John Howard, whose country will host the XVIII Games, summed up his feelings about having to follow Manchester’s example in one brief sentence -‘You’re just too damned good!’
Melbourne will have a lot to live up to in 2006…