Jackson & Kate: the all-around champions

THE gymnastics events at the Commonwealth Games are not as glamorous as they are in the Olympics and the World championships, especially in terms of talent. The reason is the geographical divide and the fact that the world's leading gymnasts hail from China, Romania, Russia, the United States and the former Soviet Union States, rather than from the erstwhile British Empire.

Kanukai Jackson performs his routine on the pommel horse in the individual all-around event. The Briton won the gold.-REUTERS

Yet, the sport has always remained quite popular with the crowd at these Games and things were no different at the G-Mex Centre in Manchester where a sell-out crowd witnessed on all the four days of the competition. The contests too proved entertaining and the fans seemed to love every minute of the action, before Australia stamped its class and finished ahead of Canada and England in the race for the overall honours.

To the home crowd, the defining moment, of course, was the success enjoyed by the English men in defending their team title, won in Kuala Lumpur four years ago and the unexpected triumph recorded by Kanukai Jackson in the individual all-around event. They could not have asked for more.

Aussie Philippe Rizzo, the winner of the parallel bars gold.-REUTERS

Primarily, the competition for the team title was among the three super powers - England, Canada and Australia - but the supremacy of the home side was never in doubt when the combine of Ross Brewer, Craig Heap and John Smethurst (all part of the triumphant squad in the Malaysian capital in 1998), joined by Jackson and Cuong Thoong hit the front at the end of the second rotation.

Each of the five did their part well and at the half-way stage, it was evident that there could be no stopping the English from taking their second successive title. In the event, England finished with a total of 162.075 points after John Smethurst brought off a fine performance on the high bar. The Canadian combine of Grant Golding, Richard Ikeda, Kyle Shewfelt, David Taro Kikuchi and Alexander Jeltkov took the silver with 161.350 points while Australia finished a distant third with 159.100 points.

Jackson had a great time and was behind the successful defence of the title by his side. He was the favourite for the all-around title and was ahead of the pack of 24 selected for the final, based on their performances in the team event. The 24-year-old, however, had a dismal opening round. Jackson had a poor 8.800 points from the floor and that left him at the ninth spot after the first rotation.

Kyle Shewfelt in action in the vault. The Canadian took the gold.-REUTERS

But soon, he bounced back with a good performance in the vault and caught up with the early leader, Alexander Jeltkov of Canada. He then emulated Neil Thomas, the first English gymnast to win the all-around title in 1994. The European bronze-medallist in vault finished first with a tally of 55.025 points and Philippe Rizzo of Australia, made the most of a mistake committed by Jeltkov on the pommel horse, claimed the silver at the expense of the Canadian with 53.850 points. Jeltkov finished third with 53.650 points.

For all the good showing in these two events, the English, nevertheless, could hardly make an impact in the various individual apparatuses with Jackson being able to return with only two silvers and Smethurst with one bronze. Here, the absolute hero was none other than Rizzo, who struck it rich with a phenomenal show in the high bars, pommel horse and parallel bars. All three events in which Jackson had led the field during the all-around competition.

The other star of the competition was Canada's Kyle Shewfelt who won golds in the floor and the vault, the latter after pushing favourite Jackson to the second spot. There was a controversy in this discipline, as Steve Frew of Scotland was made to share the gold on the rings with Herodotos Giorgallas of Cyprus. This decision by the judges left Gheorghe Hristov, the South African coach, fuming as his ward, Athol David Myhill, was left with the bronze. "It's disgusting. The medal was robbed. The other guy should have got fifth or sixth place. The problem in gymnastics is that you can contest your own mark but not other nations. I have never seen anything like this in all my years of gymnastics," he said.

Allana Slater of Australia, performing on the vault, helped her country win the team gold.-REUTERS

In the women's section, Australia had little difficulty in retaining the team title. Living up to their favourite tag, the Aussies - Jacqui Dunn, Stephanie Moorhouse, Allana Slater, Alexandra Croak and Sarah Lauren - were a class apart from the rest of the field, as they finished with 111.325 points. With Slater coming up with a splendid display on the floor and Croak performing well in the vault, the Aussies were firmly in control as they pushed England (106.900) and Canada (106.800) to the second and third positions.

Canada, however, pulled one back on the Aussies as it won the all-around title through Kate Richardson, back from injury. The Canadian who was in braces for almost six weeks after a surgery on January 26 this year was in full cry right from the start and never looked back before winning the title with a total of 36.750.

She was simply outstanding on the beam and had fairly good scores in the rest of three apparatuses before clinching the gold. England's Beth Tweddle made it further worse for the Australian contingent by picking up the silver with 36.387 points ahead of Slater who took the bronze with a score of 36.362.

Richardson continued her good showing on the beam, in the individual apparatus final, before striking her second gold with a score of 9.200 ahead of Slater (9.137) and Jacqui Dunn (8.912). The poor score of Dunn drew loud protests from the Australian team-management but the protest was thrown out by the jury. Slater was also second to Beth Tweddle in the uneven bars but did come out firing in all cylinders to take the vault gold with a score of 9.268. Sarah Lauren also made it a memorable show for her side by winning the floor gold with a superb performance that merited a score of 9.412 from the judges.

Kate Richardson of Canada, the all-around champion, was simply outstanding on the balance beam. It was a remarkable comeback for the Canadian who underwent a surgery on January 26.-REUTERS

Men: Team: 1. England, 162.075 pts, 2. Canada, 161.350, 3. Australia, 159.100. Individual all-around: 1. Kanukai Jackson (Eng), 55.025, 2. Philippe Rizzo (Aus), 53.850, 3. Alexander Jeltkov (Can), 53.650. Floor: 1. Kyle Shewfelt (Can), 9.637, 2. Shu Wai Ng (Mas), 9.300, 3. Philippe Rizzo (Aus), 9.225. Horizontal bar: 1. Philippe Rizzo (Aus), 9.512, 2. Damian Istria (Aus), 9.075, 3. Alexander Jeltkov (Can), 8.900. Parallel bars: 1. Philippe Rizzo (Aus), 9.375, 2. David Taro Kikuchi (Can), 9.150, 3. John Smethurst (Eng), 9.112. Pommel horse: 1. Philippe Rizzo (Aus), 9.162, 2. Kanukai Jackson (Eng), 9.087, 3. Yik Siang Loke (Mas), 9.062. Rings: 1. Herodotos Giorgallas (Cyp) & Steve Frew (Sco), 9.462, 3. Athol David Myhill (Rsa), 9.412. Vault: 1. Kyle Shewfelt (Can), 9.443, 2. Kanukai Jackson (Eng), 9.281, 3. Baz Collie (Sco), 9.225.

Women: Team: 1. Australia, 111.325 pts, 2. England, 106.900, 3. Canada, 106.800. Individual all-around: 1. Kate Richardson (Can), 36.750, 2. Beth Tweddle (Eng), 36.387, 3. Allana Slater (Aus), 36.362. Floor: 1. Sarah Lauren (Aus), 9.412, 2. Becky Owen (Eng), 9.237, 3. Kylie Stone (Can), 9.212. Balance beam: 1. Kate Richardson (Can), 9.200, 2. Allana Slater (Aus), 9.137, 3. Jacqui Dunn (Aus), 8.912. Vault: 1. Allana Slater (Aus), 9.268, 2. Alexandra Croak (Aus), 9.099, 3. Vanessa Meloche (Can), 9.093. Uneven bars: 1. Beth Tweddle (Eng), 9.550, 2. Allana Slater (Aus), 9.537, 3. Vanessa Meloche (Can), 9.337.