There could have been no more fitting conclusion to the Australian gold rush than one in which Susan O'Neill came closer to the 1981 world record of the legendary Mary T. Meagher than anyone has ever dared. And she made Commonwealth Games history in the bargain by winning her tenth title, a record across all sports.
The 25-year-old Queenslander had already bagged five gold medals in Kuala Lumpur to add to the three she won in 1994 and her first title from 1990. But she kept her best until last, with a 2:06.60 victory in the 200 butterfly, for which she is the 1996 Olympic champion. Triumph took her one gold medal beyond the record nine won by fellow Australian swimmer Mike Wenden in 1966-70-74 and matched the record of six titles at one Games, held by Canadian swimmer Graham Smith, from 1978.
O'Neill raced inside Meagher's 1981 world record pace in each of the first three lengths of the race. At the 50, she was 0.52 seconds up; at the 100, she was 0.50 seconds up; at the 150, she was just 0.07 seconds up. She had done so before but had always paid the price of such a pace and had never broken the 2:07 mark.
Against the odds of battling stomach upsets, the stresses and strains of a bruising 6-day racing schedule, and a lack of competition, O'Neill refused to surrender. Swimming in a sea of lactic acid, she was cheered on by a largely Australian crowd.
O'Neill held her stroke flat to the surface of the pool, a line of least resistance that left her with a Commonwealth record that fell 0.64 seconds shy of Meagher's mark, the longest surviving world record.
The race splits were O'Neill 29.01 1:00.99 1:33.62 2:06.60 Thomas 29.09 1:01.52 1:35.16 2:10.42 Deglau 30.16 1:03.22 1:36.95 2:11.67 The World record splits Meagher 29.53 1:01.41 1:33.69 2:05.96
Susie O'Neill was beaten only twice at these Games, one of those defeats at the hands of Newcastle's Sue Rolph in the first race here, the 100 freestyle. Rolph, 20, added the 50 freestyle title in 25.82 on the last night, with Alison Sheppard 0.1 seconds behind in second, winning Scotland's only medal of the Games, and Toni Jeffs third, winning New Zealand's second medal.
If O'Neill was the most-titled woman of the Commonwealth Games, then the most surprised was England's Kate Sexton, 16. She had qualified for the final of the 200 backstroke as third fastest, but had not been expected to challenge teammate Helen Don-Duncan, British record holder, and Meredith Smith, the Australian who shared the Commonwealth No. 1 ranking. A personal best, an improvement of almost 2 seconds, changed all that as the prospective A level student from Portsmouth recovered a 1 second deficit at 150 metres to overhaul the favourites down the last length. Sexton touched out Smith by just 0.01 seconds, her 2:13.18 breaking the British record of 2:13.70 that was set at the Games trials by Don-Duncan, who was third in 2:13.50.
Outshone for once by O'Neill, the 1500 metres final failed to live up to expectation, with Grant Hackett, the 18-year-old world champion from the Gold Coast, a league apart in 14:50.92. The surprise followed Hackett, as Ryk Neethling claimed South Africa's second silver medal of the Games by outreaching Kieren Perkins, the Olympic champion from 1992 and 1996 whose bronze medal confirmed his seriousness to challenge for a third title in Sydney, and Daniel Kowalski, in fourth. The three were separated by just half a second, Neethling's time a national record of 15:02.88.
Matthew Dunn, from New South Wales, reclaimed the 200 individual medley in a Commonwealth and Games record of 2:00.26, before Australia drew the Games to a fitting end in the pool with a 3:38.52 victory in the 4 x 100 medley relay ahead of England and Canada-a reflection of the final medals table.