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Melbourne bids farewell to Games
Julian Linden | March 26, 2006 21:07 IST
The 18th Commonwealth Games closed in Melbourne on Sunday after 12 days of intense competition, drama and emotion between the mostly former British colonies.
The Games ended with a spectacular ceremony at the Melbourne Cricket Ground packed with 85,000 spectators including the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his Australian counterpart John Howard.
Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell declared the Games an outstanding success and Britain's Prince Edward invited the 71 Commonwealth federations to reassemble in New Delhi in four years time.
"What an incredible success these 18th Games have been, there can be no question at all about the success of the Games," Fennell told a news conference ahead of the ceremony.
"Melbourne has raised the bar very high, there's no question about that but one day someone else is going to raise it higher."
Swimmer Leisel Jones, who won four gold medals and was involved in the only two world records set during the Games, carried the Australian flag into the massive stadium while shooter Mick Gault carried the English standard after becoming his country's most successful athlete with 15 career medals.
Australia dominated on the playing field, winning 84 gold medals, while England finished second with 36 golds ahead of Canada (26), India (22), South Africa (12) and Scotland (11).
Twenty-two Commonwealth federations won at least one gold medal, including the Isle of Man and Papua New Guinea. Canadian rhythmic gymnast Alexandra Orlando won six on her own, matching the record for the biggest haul by any athlete at a single Games since they began in 1930.
Australian swimmer Libby Lenton won five but the David Dixon Award for the outstanding athlete went to Indian pistol shooter Samaresh Jung, nicknamed "Goldfinger" after winning five as well.
The Games lost one of their biggest drawcards when Ian Thorpe withdrew because of a mystery illness but Jamaican world record holder Asafa Powell and Australia's dazzling female swimmers filled the void.
Powell finally added a title to his mantle as the world's fastest man when he flashed across the MCG to win the 100 metres.
Australia's women turned the Melbourne Aquatic Centre into a river of gold, winning 16 of their 19 events with their school of world and Olympic champions.
Australia's men were a flop in the pool as England, Scotland and Wales cashed in on the absence of Thorpe and Grant Hackett but the English, Scots and Welsh struggled in track and field, normally one of their strongest sports.
"Too many people try to put these championships on a par with the world championships or the Olympics but they are not -- never have been, never will be," Johnson told the BBC.
A decade of meticulous planning and more than A$1.1 billion ($814 million) was spent preparing Australia's second-largest city, but the Games were still not without scandal.
Two Indian weightlifters, Raju Edwin and Tajinder Singh, tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid stanozolol while Australian police are still searching for 16 athletes, including two-thirds of the Sierra Leona team, who disappeared, prompting the Australian government to issue a warning to competitors seeking asylum.
A 40-year-old Bangladeshi athlete was charged with indecently assaulting a female worker at the Games village and in an unrelated incident a 35-year-old Indian massage therapist was charged with indecently assaulting a teenage female village worker.
The critics who dismiss the Games as little more than an imperial anachronism that has no place in the 21st century were unmoved by the events that unfolded in Melbourne while local organisers were putting on a brave face as the costs of the staging the event sky-rocketed.
A Bollywood extravaganza at Sunday's closing ceremony followed gushing assessments by dignitaries before Dame Edna Everage, the alter-ego of comic Barry Humphries, suddenly appeared on the giant screens erected around the stadium to deliver her irreverent verdict."Possums ... this was an historic event because only 10 minutes ago Melbourne just finished paying off the 1956 Olympic Games," Everage declared.