AUSSIE WOMEN MAKE A BIG SPLASH

Leisel Jones was in the forefront of the outstanding display by the Aussie women in Melbourne. The 20-year-old Queenslander was at her menacing best, writes A. VINOD.

There were surprises in plenty. The absence of stars such as Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett did affect the Australian team's performance. But overall, it was a profitable outing for the host, with its women swimmers dominating the show.

Australia ended with a tally of 19 gold, 18 silver and 17 bronze medals for a total of 54. England, which finished second, won eight gold, 11 silver and four bronze medals. Interestingly, the Aussie men contributed only a single gold to their team's kitty.

The outstanding display by the Aussie women, led by the inimitable Leisel Jones, was the talking point at the pools in Melbourne. The 20-year-old Queensland swimmer, Leisel Jones, was at her menacing best. She completed a clean sweep of all the three breaststroke titles up for grabs. This is a rare record — winning gold in the same events — in the history of the Commonwealth Games swimming. Her compatriot Petra Thomas had achieved a similar feat while winning all the three butterfly events in the 2002 Manchester Games.

Recording a surprise win over her team-mate Jade Edmistone, the reigning World champion and world record holder in the 50m, Jones later went on to pick up the 200m and 100m titles in style, the latter with a world record time of 1:05.09. She smashed her own record by 0.62s. A fourth gold medal also came her way, when she along with Sophie Edington, Jessicah Schipper and Libby Lenton helped Australia to the 4 x 100m medley relay title in a world record time.

Lenton too was in the spotlight as she won the 50m and 100m freestyle gold (the latter by leading Australia to a 1-2-3 finish) though she suffered a stunning defeat at the hands of Scotland's Caitlin McClatchey in the 200m. Similarly, Schipper and Edington too had a double each in the butterfly and backstroke events, though the former could have finished with a clean sweep but for her defeat to team-mate Danni Miatke in the 50m butterfly final.

McClatchey, the Scottish swimmer, who emerged a surprise winner over Lenton in the 200m freestyle, too had a golden double. She cantered home in the 400m freestyle. Stephanie Rice, another Aussie won the two individual medleys. Among men, four swimmers held the centre-stage with a golden double each before they were overshadowed by David Davies of Wales who won the 1500m free gold and became the first Welshman in history to win a Commonwealth freestyle title. The dominance of Davies started right from the first lap and ended 48 years of Australian supremacy in the event.

Not only had Australia won all 12 crowns in the event, since 1958, but it had also claimed 25 out of a possible 36 medals of all colours including three clean sweeps.

Roland Schoeman (South Africa) took home the 50m free and 50 butterfly titles. David Carry of Scotland proved his mettle in the 400m free and 400m individual medley and his compatriot Gregor Tait reigned supreme in the 200m backstroke and 200m individual medley. England's Christopher Cook won the gold in the 50m and 100m breaststroke.

Also present in Melbourne was a small Indian contingent, but the country's principal swimmers, Amar Muralidharan, Rehan Pooncha and Shikha Tandon, could hardly make any impact. They were knocked out in the heats. With India all set to host the 2010 Games, the Swimming Federation of India has a lot of work to do.

AT HER BEST

"I got the final turn a bit wrong... it could have been better," gushed Leisel Jones after her superb show that left the rest of the field well behind. In fact, what Jones unleashed at M2006 was phenomenal. "I still can't believe it. I' m still in shock. I don't think, I'm unbeatable — nobody is," said the champion.

Born on August 30, 1985, Jones was a participant in the 2000 Sydney Olympics — as a 15-year-old — and again in 2004 in Athens where she was part of the winning Australian team in the 4 x 100m medley relay. She also won a bronze and silver in the 100m and 200m breaststroke respectively.

However, a year later, Jones was able to showcase the vast potential in her at the World Championship in Montreal where she took the 100m gold and then demolished the world record in the 200m, finishing ahead of her rivals by more than six metres.

At the trials leading to M2006, she was once again at her best as she lowered the 200m mark and then added the 100m world record to her credit. Jones is known for employing a classical technique, with a slow start. But then, despite this weakness she is a strong finisher and has got a sound temperament to fight against the odds. Being only 20, there is a lot to come from Jones.