When Brit-Aus Duel Locked Out The Rest
Oct 5, 2010 - Craig Lord
The Old Empire struck back in Delhi today, Loughborough teammates Fran Halsall and Liam Tancock granting England the first two crowns up for grabs before Robbie Renwick delivered Scotland's first gold of the Games, leaving Leiston Pickett the only Australian winner in day two. The Brit-Aussie duel locked all others off the podium, prompting Canada to celebrate Stefan Hirniak's sixth place in the 200m freestyle, good as it was for the man, as its "top performance".
Pickett was top Dolphin on a day when every way the school leapt, there was someone to whack them with a stick, as Tancock did in the 50m backstroke, or deny them by a fingernail: Halsall won by 0.03sec over world champion Marieke Guehrer, Emily Seebohm just 0.02sec further adrift, and Renwick kept a fast-finishing Kenrick Monk at bay by 0.03sec in a blanket finish. Even Pickett's victory had a home edge to it: four golds for Leisel Jones would have taken her past the Aussie record gold count of 10 owned by Susie O'Neill and Ian Thorpe. She can still match that - and to be fair to the Olympic champion, Jones never made 11 a personal target, just as Seebohm never declared a desire for eight golds.
For Jones, more important to her that targets imposed was seeing a Dolphin sweep. Kate Haywood, the third pupil of coach Ben Titley at Loughborough to reach the podium today, denied Australia a lockout, prompting Jones to say: "One-two-three would have been nice but it's OK. There was a bit of pressure on us to get it. We still got one and two."
Indeed, and even on an off day, of course, the Dolphins continued to leap ahead eight more medals leaving them with a tally of 13, four of those gold. Tomorrow promises more for those shut out today: Jason Dunford (KEN) looks sharp and could cause upset in his less-favoured 50m 'fly against Aussie comeback king Geoff Huegill seeking gold eight years after taking the title before a break from the sport; and Cameron Van der Burgh (RSA) and Glenn Snyders (NZL) seek to muscle in on Aussie might in the 100m breaststroke. But no point in predicting.
As Leigh Nugent, Autralia head coach, noted: performance sport is a "fragile" thing sometimes, the reasons why some athletes are on, others off at any given moment not always a matter of appraising the obvious and sometimes a simply case of "no idea".
Take the 100m backstroke today: three Aussies in the centre for the final and looking good, 2010 leader Emily Seebohm at the helm, while world champion Gemma Spofforth struggled back in 6th and England teammate Elizabeth Simmonds uncharacteristically out of sorts today and out of the final. At the "lesser" event of the European Championships, the pair kept the continent at bay back in July, when it looked as if things could only get better.
Renwick is the reason not to read anything into Simmonds' experience when looking ahead to the 200m: he recovered from a last-length thrashing over 400m on day one to take gold over 200m today. It is the mark of fine athletes.
"I think it (Nick D'Arcy's exit in the 200m 'fly on day 1) shook up everyone," Eamon Sullivan told Nicole Jeffery at The Australian. "I was watching the telecast at the village and the commentators couldn't believe it. But I am probably a prime example of someone having a bad day every now and then. After a bit of a shock with D'Arcy missing the final we wanted to come out and produce the goods and set the tone for the rest of the meet for the guys. It just shows the rest of the team that anything can happen and we have to be on our game in heats and finals."
Not all bad moments can be easily set aside, however, and with four days of racing remaining and much yet to unfold, the biggest concerns for many here are the 4am to 5am starts dictated by bus tours of 40 minutes and more from village to pool and keeping Delhi belly at bay. Several swimmers have already succumbed to stomach trouble, and after victory in the 50m butterfly and qualification for the 100m freestyle final, Halsall, 20, added her named to the list.
"It is a lot different situation here with all the different things like buses (taking) 40 minutes here and back (to the village) and a bit of Delhi-belly (upset stomach) going on so we'll see how it goes," she said. "I don't want to be beaten in my main event that is for sure. I have seen the doctor about some cream as it hurts as well, although you probably don't want to know that." Before the Games, her coach Ben Titley said that he hoped Britain's "priority" event of 2010 would not turn into an occasion on which circumstance and conditions dictated the results.
For Australia's Robert Hurley, circumstance and his own condition (fatigue) are set to force an early return to Australia, little point in asking a tired athlete suffering a spot of Delhi belly to sit things out so that he can race 30 laps and feel even worse about the whole deal.
His case prompted Australian media to question village hygiene, eliciting this response from Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell: "We have asked for a check on the food, but we were not told that it necessarily came from the village, it could have come from anywhere. All I am saying, the village food, the caterers, we have asked to inspect fully."
The medals table after day 2: