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Australia shoot ahead as drug cloud lifts
Julian Linden | March 17, 2006 19:59 IST
Australia surged clear at the top of the medal standings as the murky doping cloud that had hung over their Commonwealth Games team finally lifted on Friday.
The host nation captured nine medals on the second day of competition to raise their total to 12, eight clear of second-placed India and nine more than their traditional rivals England.
India won three gold medals on Friday, all on the shooting range, while England collected two in swimming. South Africa also won gold in the pool while New Zealand won the rugby, beating England 29-21 in the final, and Canada and Sri Lanka claimed golds in weightlifting.
The Australians won three golds each in shooting and cycling as well as two in swimming and another in the women's gymnastics team event on a day that left organisers and officials breathing easier after a week of negative publicity.
The Australian weightlifting team had been under investigation after cleaners discovered syringes, pills and vials in a room they had been using at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).
The team maintained their innocence in the face of a growing storm and were finally vindicated on Friday when an independent testing agency revealed the suspicious materials contained only traces of vitamins and minerals.
Australia claimed all three golds on offer at the velodrome on Friday with Olympic champion Ryan Bayley winning the keirin, Sean Finning taking out the points race and Katherin Bates the women's points race.
"I'm an Australian sprinter, we think we can win anything we go in," said Bayley.
"It doesn't matter if we have both legs tied behind our back, we think we can still win."
Australia might also have won a silver but Ben Kersten, who won the time-trial on Thursday, was relegated from second to last place for blocking his team mate Shane Kelly, who had finished fifth.
Australia also swept the medals in the two women's swimming finals, making good on their promise to turn the Melbourne Aquatic Centre into their own private pool party.
Leisel Jones beat home two of her team mates to win the 50 metres breaststroke final while Danni Miatke led an Australian sweep in the 50m butterfly. South Africa's Lize-Mari Retief did at least join the Australians on the podium by dead-heating for third.
South Africa's Natalie Du Toit also won a gold in the women's disabled category, which is being included on the official medals table for the first time.
Ian Thorpe's absence continued to haunt the Australian men's team who are yet to win a gold in the pool with Englishmen finishing first and second in both Friday's finals.
Matthew Clay pipped his training partner Liam Tancock in the 50m backstroke and Ross Davenport touched out Simon Burnett in the 200m freestyle. Thorpe, the world record holder, was watching the race from the stands sitting next to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
"We've shown the Australians in their backyard what we can do. We've not been afraid to go out there and take them on," Davenport said.
Australia and India split the six shooting medals with Michael Diamond and Suzanne Balogh, both Olympic clay target champions, among the winners.
India were unlucky not to win another gold when Arun Murugesan and Vidanage hoisted lifts in the 62 kilogram category but the Sri Lankan was awarded the gold because of his lighter bodyweight.