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Jana Pittman steals the show
Julian Linden | March 23, 2006 20:39 IST
Australia's Jana Pittman, a self-confessed drama queen, stole the show at the Commonwealth Games on Thursday by winning the women's 400 metres hurdles.
Jamaica completed a golden sweep of the sprints when Omar Brown and Sherone Simpson won their 200 metres finals while Canadian cross-country cyclist Marie-Helene Premont avoided a run-in with a kangaroo to win gold in the mountains.
Australia won eight gold medals across five sports to raise their total to 63 at the end of the seventh day, still in sight of their record haul of 88.
England won another two to lift their total to 24 and remain clear of India (19), Canada (16) and South Africa and Scotland (both 10) with three days to go.
Pittman, a former world champion, sped around the Melbourne Cricket Ground track in 53.82 seconds, defending the title she won in Manchester four years ago and triggering thunderous applause from the 83,000 spectators.
She did not win a medal at the Athens Olympics but still managed to play the starring role after injuring her knee 17 days before the Games then dashing to London for surgery just to make it to the starting blocks in the Greek capital.
A back injury meant she missed the 2005 world championships and she injured her hamstring in the lead-up to these Games.
The 23-year-old, who is engaged to marry England's 2002 Commonwealth Games 400m hurdles champion Chris Rawlinson, was also involved in a 'catfight' with her team mate Tamsyn Lewis.
Reprimanded by team officials, Pittman announced she was considering leaving Australia.
"I know I'm a very misunderstood person but I really thought that by doing this on the track I can turn it around," she said.
"Tonight just showed that people in this country really love their sport and love their heroes and I really hope one day I'll do my talking with my feet and nothing else."
A desperate last-stride lunge by Brown won the 200m final from Mauritian Stephan Buckland by the width of his vest. Both men were given a time of 20.47 seconds, but Brown was awarded the gold after officials studied the photo-finish.
Simpson won the women's 200m by a clearer margin in a surprise win over Olympic champion and compatriot Veronica Campbell.
Campbell appeared to be cruising home before Simpson ran her down over the final 40m to finish in 22.59, giving Jamaica victory in the men's and women's 100m and 200m events.
Australia won the inaugural women's basketball gold in a 77-39 crushing of New Zealand while Chris Rae laid claim to being the strongest man at the Games when he lifted a combined total of 388 kilograms in the super-heavyweight division.
Liam Killeen led an England one-two in the men's cycling cross-country after women's gold medallist Premont got a close look at one of Australia's iconic native animals after it hopped out in front of her.
"I was surprised," she said. "I was a little bit insecure, but it's okay. I just hope someone got a good picture of it."
Off the track, police were on the lookout for seven members of Sierra Leone's team who had gone missing, bringing to nine the number of Games athletes unaccounted for.
A Tanzanian boxer and a Bangladeshi runner were reported missing earlier in the week.
Police and immigration officials said none of the athletes had broken any laws because they had been granted special visas allowing them to stay in Australia for another month, but there were concerns about their welfare.
"We'd be keen to find out where they are and make sure they are okay," a police spokesman said.
Officials defended their decision to conceal details of anti-doping tests until the Games have finished after reports that two Indian weightlifters had returned positive samples.
The Indian news agency PTI, quoting an unnamed team source, said two lifters had failed tests. PTI said neither of the lifters had won medals.
The Indian team's chef-de-mission HJ Dora said he was unaware of any positive tests and Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell revealed that no results would be announced before the Games end on Sunday.
"It is important to protect the rights of the athletes properly because the penalties are severe in the end," Fennell said.