Du Toit is outstanding athlete

THE tickets for the swimming events of the 17th Commonwealth Games - quite literally - were the hottest in Manchester. For, simply, it was party time down at the pool what with the classy Ian Thorpe in the thick of things and coming up with an awesome display. The 19-year-old uncorked a remarkable show as he worked his way to a record haul of six golds and a silver, though personally the failure to deliver the promised seven golds should have been a big body blow to the genial swimmer.

The classy Aussie, Ian Thorpe, is all smiles as he holds his medals - six golds and one silver.-AP

All eyes were trained on this Aussie, already acknowledged as the greatest swimmer of our times, as he went business-like in his pursuit to glory. The mission to charter into the same territory hitherto crossed by the one and only Mark Spitz, at the Munich Olympics 30 years ago, saw him start off his campaign with a new world record in his pet 400m freestyle event and continue until compatriot Matt Welsh stopped it suddenly on the tracks in the 100m backstroke.

Otherwise, it was a faultless and memorable campaign for Thorpe who became the first male swimmer in the history of the Games to win the 100m, 200m and 400m freestyle titles and the third swimmer to win six golds at a single Commonwealth Games after Canada's Graham Smith (1978) and compatriot Susan O'Neill (1998). Thorpe, after his rich haul in Manchester, is now also the proud record holder of an aggregate 10 golds (including the four he won in Kuala Lumpur four years ago) in the men's section, surpassing the nine golds achieved by English fencer, Bill Hoskyns, and fellow Australian swimmer, Mike Wenden.

Geoff Huegill dominated the men's butterfly events by winning the 50m and 100m golds.-AP

The same whirl of the arms and legs and the power which had helped him catch world-wide attention ever since his fairy-tale debut at the international stage was very much in evidence as Thorpe rewrote his own world record in the 400m free. Into the lead straightaway, the Aussie had splits of 25.03, 27.69, 28.25, 28.30, 27.81, 28.05 and 27.61 before he returned to hit the wall in 3:40.08, almost a good three seconds ahead of team-mate Grant Hackett, with Scotland's Graeme Smith a further six seconds back.

Thorpe, thereafter, lived up to his billing as the Games' undisputed star attraction helping Australia to the 400m and 800m free relay golds and savouring further individual success in the 200m and 100m free events. His only setback came later as Welsh saw off Thorpe's challenge in the 100m backstroke with a new Games record. Thorpe was behind right from the start and never got a chance to plant a direct assault on Welsh's supremacy over the event. But still, he was successful in overhauling Malaysia's Alex Lim to take the silver in the home stretch.

This defeat notwithstanding, Thorpe was once again at his intimidating best before he signed off in style by winning a sixth gold, anchoring Australia to yet another record-breaking win in the 400m medley relay. Downplaying his failure to emulate Mark Spitz, Thorpe exuded confidence as he summed up his campaign. "It has been a very successful Games for me personally, as well as everybody else. I'm just pleased to have been part of it." On his part, Welsh was unapologetic: "In the last five metres, it felt like a grand piano had been dropped on me. The hardest thing is trying to deprive him (Thorpe) of that gold medal. But he came to my party, it's been my speciality for a few years now."

Matt Welsh punches the air after taking the men's 400m backstroke gold, thus denying Thorpe his seventh gold.-AP

The two other free golds up for grabs were taken by South Africa's Roland Schoeman, who emerged a surprise winner in the 50m and Thorpe's team-mate Grant Hackett, whose mastery over the 1500m hardly brooked any challenge from the rest of the field. Mark Foster of England was the favourite to win the 50m for a third successive time but in the end the English swimmer had to be satisfied with the bronze behind Australia's Brett Hawke by a clear margin.

Matt Welsh, apart from his win over Thorpe, tasted further success as he took the 50m gold as well, with a Games record to boot. But his attempt to make a clean sweep of backstroke events met with disaster following his controversial disqualification in the 200m event. That was eventually won by James Goddard of England, with Gregor Tait of Scotland and Simon Militis, also of England taking the second and third spots.

England finished with a 1-2-3 in the 50m breaststroke with James Gibson taking the gold ahead of Adam Whitehead and Darren Mew. Whitehead, however, won the 100m title with ease even as Gibson came in third behind Morgan Knabe of Canada. Jim Piper (Australia) emerged the winner of the 200m after being engaged in a keen tussle with Terence Parkin (South Africa) and Michael Brown (Canada).

Geoff Huegill, expectedly, dominated the fly events by winning the 50m and 100m. Justin Norris completed an Australian sweep by pocketing the 200m title, just as in the same manner in which he had helped his country to win both the individual medley golds at stake.

The Australian squad, (from left) Matt Welsh, Ian Thorpe, Geoff Huegill and Jim Piper, won the 4x100m relay event with a new Games record.-AFP

In the women's section, the leading performer undoubtedly was Australian Petria Thomas, who helped herself to five golds, a silver and a bronze, though England's Karen Pickering and Sarah Price too left an indelible impression. Like Thorpe, it was a tiring campaign for Petria Thomas. She, however, stood the test well winning the 100m fly title for a third time in a row, the 200m and 50 titles expectedly as the reigning world champion over the two distances besides helping her country to victory in 400m free and medley relays. She was also a member of the silver-medal winning 800m free team after having been forced to settle for a shared bronze with team-mate Elka Abraham in the 200m free.

Karen Pickering was the one who won that event going over the four-lapper in a record time of 1:59.59. Rebecca Cooke also did England proud finishing with a golden double, winning the 400m and 800m events with ease. Alison Sheppard, in Scottish colours, took the blue-riband 50m event in an impressive 24.76. Jodie Henry, who took the silver behind Sheppard, finally gave Australia its lone gold in the free events by scooping up the 100m title in 55.45s, leaving behind Helene Muller (South Africa) and Karen Legg (England) for the second and third spots.

Dyana Calub of Australia was the winner of the 50m backstroke gold as she strolled her way past Jennifer Carroll and Sarah Price in a new record time. The Australian, however, was unable to repeat the same feat when Sarah broke through to the lead in the 100m final. The English swimmer, besides winning the event in a Games record time of 1:01.06, also led her country to a clean sweep of the 200m. Sarah returned in a record 2:10.58 even as Jo Fargus won her battle over Katy Sexton for the silver.

Canada's Alexandre Despatie in action in the men's 3m springboard diving event. Despatie won both the 1m and 3m springboard golds.-AP

Zoe Baker (England), one-time world record holder, was a runaway winner of the 50m breaststroke, finishing well ahead of Sarah Poewe (South Africa) and Tarnee White (Australia). But over the 100m and 200m, there was no stopping Australian Leisel Jones who proved her supremacy in both the distances in style. Though beaten to second place by Kristy Leigh Coventry - who claimed Zimbabwe's first swimming Commonwealth Games - in the 200m individual medley, Jennifer Reilly also did Australia proud by easily winning the 400m title.

Australia, in the end, had a tally of 27 golds out of a possible 42 from swimming alone and this was further boosted by its women divers, Loudy Tourky and Irina Lashko. While Tourky took the platform title, Lashko proved unbeatable in the two springboard events, coming up with a commendable performance in both. Pete Waterfield and Leon Taylor gave England a 1-2 in the men's highboard event while the 1m and 3m springboard events were dominated by Canadian Alexandre Despatie.

Canada also had a memorable outing in synchro swimming. It won the solo through the indefatigable Claire-Carver Dias and the duets title through Dias and Fanny Letourneau.

Australia's Petria Thomas was the top performer in the women's section with five golds, a silver and a bronze.-AFP

Yet, Manchester is sure to be remembered not for these feats but for the stunning display unleashed by Ian Thorpe. He was simply outstanding.

The results:

Men: Freestyle: 50m: 1. Roland Schoeman (RSA) 22.33s, 2. Brett Hawke (Aus) 22.34s, 3. Mark Foster (Eng) 22.47s. 100m: 1. Ian Thorpe (Aus) 48.73 (GR), 2. Ashley Callus (Aus) 49.45s, 3. Ryk Neethling (RSA) 49.71s. 200m: Ian Thorpe (Aus) 1:44.71 (GR), 2. Grant Hackett (Aus) 1:46.13, 3. Rick Say (Can) 1:49.40. 400m: 1. Ian Thorpe (Aus) 3:40.08 (WR), 2. Grant Hackett (Aus) 3:43.48, 3. Graeme Smith (Sco) 3:49.40. 1500m: 1. Grant Hackett (Aus) 14:54.29, 2. Graeme Smith (Sco) 15:07.19, 2. Craig Stevens (Aus) 15:09.24.

Backstroke: 50m: 1. Matt Welsh (Aus) 25.65s (GR), 2. Alex Lim (Mas) 25.67s, 3. Gerhard Zandberg (RSA) 25.89s. 100m: 1. Matt Welsh (Aus) 54.72s (GR), 2. Ian Thorpe (Aus) 55.38s, 3. Alex Lim (Mas) 55.44s. 200m: 1. James Goddard (Eng) 1:59.83, 2. Gregor Tait (Sco) 2:00.55, 3. Simon Militis (Eng) 2:01.04.

England's Zoe Baker was a runaway winner in the women's 50m breaststroke event.-REUTERS

Breaststroke: 50m: 1. James Gibson (Eng) 27.72s, 2. Adam Whitehead (Eng) 27.79s, 3. Darren Mew (Eng) 27.80s. 100m: 1. Adam Whitehead (Eng) 1:01.13, 2. Morgan Knabe (Can) 1:01.23, 3. James Gibson (Eng) 1:01.64. 200m: 1. Jim Piper (Aus) 2:13.10, 2. Terence Parkin (Rsa) 2:13.34, 3. Michael Brown (Can) 2:13.82.

Butterfly: 50m: 1. Geoff Huegill (Aus) 23.57s (GR), 2. Roland Schoeman (RSA) 23.66s, 3. Mark Foster (Eng) 24.11s. 100m: 1. Geoff Huegill (Aus) 52.36s, 2. Mike Mintenko (Can) 52.80s, 3. Adam Pine (Aus) 53.02s. 200m: 1. Justin Norris (Aus) 1:56.95 (GR), 2. Steve Parry (Eng) 1:57.71, 3. James Hickman (Eng) 1:58.55.

Individual medley: 200m: 1. Justin Norris (Aus) 2:01.32, 2. Adrian Turner (Eng) 2:02.10, 3. James Goddard (Eng) 2:02.48. 400m: 1. Justin Norris (Aus) 4:16.95 (GR), 2. Brian Lawrence Johns (Can) 4:17.41, 3. Adrian Turner (Eng) 4:18.75.

Zimbabwe's Kirsty Leigh Coventry won the women's 200m individual medley event. It was Zimbabwe's first ever gold-medal winning effort in swimming.-AP

Relays: 4x100m freestyle: 1. Australia (Ashley Callus, Todd Pearson, Grant Hackett, Ian Thorpe) 3:16.42 (GR), 2. South Africa 3:18.86, 3. Canada 3.19.39. 4x200m freestyle: 1. Australia (Grant Hackett, Leon Dunne, Jason Cram, Ian Thorpe) 7:11.69 (GR), 2. Canada 7:17.17, 3. England 7:22.56. 4x100m medley: 1. Australia (Matt Welsh, Jim Piper, Geoff Huegill, Ian Thorpe) 3:36.05 (GR), 2. England 3:38.37, 3. Canada 3:38.91.

Women: Freestyle: 50m: 1. Alison Sheppard (Sco) 24.76s, 2. Jodie Henry (Aus) 25.37s, 3. Toni Jeffs (Nzl) 25.48s. 100m: 1. Jodie Henry (Aus) 55.45s, 2. Helene Muller (RSA) 55.60s, 3. Karen Legg (Eng) 55.86s. 200m: 1. Karen Pickering (Eng) 1:59.69 (GR), 2. Karen Legg (Eng) 1:59.86, 3. Elka Abraham (Aus) & Petria Thomas (Aus) 2:00.07. 400m: 1. Rebecca Cooke (Eng) 4:09.49, 2. Elka Graham (Aus) 4:11.47, 3. Janelle Atkinson (Jam) 4:13.24. 800m: 1. Rebecca Cooke (Eng) 8:28.54, 2. Amanda Pascoe (Aus) 8:34.19, 3. Janelle Atkinson (Jam) 8:36.23.

Backstroke: 50m: 1. Dyana Calub (Aus) 28.98s (GR), 2. Jennifer Carroll (Can) 29.05s, 3. Sarah Price (Eng) 29.08s. 100m: 1. Sarah Price (Eng) 1:01.06 (GR), 2. Dyana Calub (Aus) 1:01.86, 3. Giaan Rooney (Aus) 1:02.22. 200m: 1. Sarah Price (Eng) 2:10.58 (GR), 2. Jo Fargus (Eng) 2:11.60, 3. Katy Sexton (Eng) 2:12.01.

England women took the 4x200m freestyle gold with a new Games record.-AP

Breaststroke: 50m: 1. Zoe Baker (Eng) 30.60s, 2. Sarah Poewe (RSA) 31.73s, 3. Tarnee White (Aus) 31.74s. 100m: 1. Leisel Jones (Aus) 1:08.74, 2. Brooke Hanson (Aus) 1:09.10, 3. Sarah Poewe (RSA) 1:09.10. 200m: 1. Leisel Jones (Aus) 2:25.93, 2. Sarah Poewe (RSA) 2:27.47, 3. Kelli Waite (Aus) 2:28.58.

Butterfly: 50m: 1. Petria Thomas (Aus) 26.66s (GR), 2. Nicole Irving (Aus) 27.13s, 3. Alison Sheppard (Sco) 27.30s. 100m: 1. Petria Thomas (Aus) 58.57s, 2. Mandy Loots (RSA) 59.68s, 3. Jennifer Button (Can) 1:00.22. 200m: 1. Petria Thomas (Aus) 2:08.40, 2. Georgie Lee (Eng) 2:10.73, 3. Margaretha Pedder (Eng) 2:11.60.

Individual medley: 200m: 1. Kirsty Leigh Coventry (Zim) 2:14.53 (GR), 2. Jennifer Reilly (Aus) 2:14.99, 3. Marianne Limpert (Can) 2:15.07. 400m: 1. Jennifer Reily (Aus) 4:43.59, 2. Elizabeth van Welie (Nzl) 4:44.56, 3. Jessica Abbott (Aus) 4:47.11.

Irina Lashko of Australia claimed the women's 1m and 3m springboard diving golds.

Relays: 4x100m freestyle: 1. Australia (Alice Mills, Jodie Henry, Petria Thomas, Sarah Ryan) 3:40.41 (GR), 2. England 3.41.47, 3. Canada 3:45.33. 4x200m freestyle: 1. England (Karen Legg, Goergie Lee, Jo Fargus, Karen Pickering) 8:01.39 (GR), 2. Australia 8.01.91, 3. Canada 8.04.66. 4x100m medley: 1. Australia (Dyana Calub, Leisel Jones, Petria Thomas, Jodie Henry) 4:03.70 (GR), 2. England 4:05.65, 3. Canada 4:07.25.

Diving:

Men: 10m highboard: 1. Pete Waterfield (Eng) 502.71 points, 2. Leon Taylor (Eng) 492.84, 3. Alexandre Despatie (Can) 484.32. 1m springboard: 1. Alexandre Despatie (Can) 404.55, 2. Tony Ally (Eng) 386.37, 3. Steven Barnett (Aus) 383.65. 3m springboard: 1. Alexandre Despatie (Can) 474.60, 2. Tony Ally (Eng) 455.67, 3. Robert Newbery (Aus) 441.84.

Women: 10m highboard: 1. Loudy Tourky (Aus) 538.65, 2. Emilie Heymans (Can) 527.79, 3. Blythe Hartley (Can) 490.17. 1m springboard: 1. Irina Lashko (Aus) 302.82, 2. Blythe Hartley (Can) 287.04, 3. Jame Smith (Eng) 274.71. 3m springboard: 1. Irina Lashko (Aus) 335.79, 2. Emilie Heymans (Can) 346.32, 3. Jane Smith (Eng) 316.29.

Canada's Claire-Carver Dias (left) and Fanny Letourneau during the synchronised swimming duet technical routine. The duo took the gold.

Synchronised swimming:

Solo: 1. Claire-Carver Dias (Can) 94.834 points, 2. Gayle Adamson (Eng) 89.000, 3. Naomi Young (Aus) 86.000. Duets: 1. Fanny Letourneau and Claire-Carver Dias (Can) 94.417 points, 2. Gayle Adamson and Katie Hooper (Eng) 88.167, 3. Ashleigh Rudder and Naomi Young (Aus) 85.917.

ONE-LEGGED South African swimmer Natalie du Toit was named as the outstanding athlete of the Manchester Commonwealth Games on the final day.

The 18-year-old from Cape Town won golds in the 50 metres and 100m disabled freestyle swimming events, breaking two world records on the way.

And in a Games first she also made the final of the able-bodied 800m swimming event where she swam a personal best of 9m, 13.57s, in placing eighth in a race won by England's Rachel Cooke in 8:28.54.

She was back in the pool by May, before she had even managed to walk again and made the Commonwealth Games a distant target.

"Natalie is a truly remarkable individual who deserves our full admiration," said Mike Fennell, Chairman of the Commonwealth Games Federation.

"Her achievements in Manchester reflect her determination in life - to overcome adversity and in the process inspire others including her South African team-mates.

All 72 competing nations and territories nominated one athlete for the award with the winner chosen by a panel consisting of the six Commonwealth regions. The panel decision in favour of Du Toit was unanimous.

Du Toit has said repeatedly in Manchester that she is not sure what her swimming future holds.