New Delhi: After a pre-event crisis and the organisational blunders of the first few days made way for a fine festival of sport, Delhi will perhaps be remembered as the Commonwealth Games that were not as bad as expected.
Indian national flag is projected on the aerostat during the closing ceremony of the 19th Commonwealth Games at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi. Manvender Vashist / PTI photo
With 74 golds, Australians once again dominated the Games, which closed on Thursday, but it was the record 38 titles hosts India accumulated that really helped turn the event around.
Early in the competition, a rash of ‘Delhi belly´ stomach complaints, transport issues and largely empty venues clearly affected the ability of athletes to give of their best.
The problems of ticketing and transport were gradually addressed throughout the Games and by the end of the 12 days, packed houses were roaring competitors on to some memorable feats.
“The athletes and the competitions have gone very well,” Commonwealth Games Federation (CGF) chief Mike Fennell said on the final day.
“The athletes are happy, they were comfortable, they competed well and apart from one or two minor incidents they have reported a very satisfactory experience.”
Although complicated by concerns about health and security in Delhi, the longer term problem for the Commonwealths of top athletes from the 71 mostly former British colonies not turning up was again exposed -- most notably in athletics.
Usain Bolt, the sport’s biggest name, stayed away for scheduling reasons as did his fellow Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powell and a string of world and Olympic champions.
“We have got to ensure that we can attract the best athletes available at the time,” said Fennell.
“For the top class athletes, October is not the best month for track and field. We have to look at how we can place our event. A number of athletes were also turned off by the negative media reports coming out of Delhi.”
There were other negatives during the Delhi competition, with Sally Pearson cruelly disqualified from the women’s 100 metres for false start as she was heading out to collect the gold medal.
Scourge of doping
The scourge of doping also visited the Games. Nigerian Osayemi Oludamola was handed the 100m gold when Pearson was disqualified, only to be stripped of it herself when she tested positive for a banned stimulant.
There were plenty of sporting moments to savour at the track, however, even if world records were never going to be threatened at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.
Pearson rallied to find solace with an emotional victory in the 100m hurdles, while India’s storming victory in the women’s 4x400m relay for their country’s first track gold in 52 years will live long in the memory for those who were there.
Quality Kenyan runners turned up in force to take an astonishing four podium sweeps but Uganda’s Moses Kipsiro gatecrashed their party with a thrilling 5,000 and 10,000 double.
There was better overall quality on display in the swimming pool, where Australians once again ruled the roost with 21 golds. Alicia Coutts ended up with five titles to her name, while Leisel Jones became only the third athlete to win 10 career Commonwealth Games golds, joining compatriots Ian Thorpe and Susie O’Neill.
Fellow Australian Emily Seebohm was also a regular on the podium, winning eight medals in a single Games, a feat achieved only twice before.
The challenge from the British swimming teams never came close to breaking the Australian stranglehold but they showed enough to suggest the hosts will be a power to be reckoned with at the 2012 Olympics.
In the absence of top British riders, who skipped Delhi to focus on winning Olympic qualification points at the European championships, Australia dominated cycling as well and claimed 12 of the 14 gold medals.
New Zealand’s rugby sevens team won their fourth successive title as did the Australian men’s hockey team, while Canada maintained their 100% record in synchronised swimming going back to 1986.
Shooter Gagan Narang led India’s charge with four gold medals to make him the most successful male athlete of the Games but it was shuttler Saina Nehwal who secured the final gold to ensure the hosts finished just above England (37) in the medal table.