- 28 Mar 06, 12:18 AM
It is the end of the blog as we know it and I feel tired - so dozy I managed to sleep through a pneumatic drill outside my window this morning. Still, of course, I have enough energy left to round-up the Melbourne Games - so here goes.
Melbourne Highs: The MCG was such an awesome venue and to see it full - and it wasn't always - on three nights of athletics was incredible. Asafa Powell's 100m win was so easy it left you lukewarm but Craig Mottram's battle with Augustine Choge in the 5,000m was thrilling. The sound of 80,000 Australians urging him on until the end showed how much they wanted their local hero to win. One Australian turned to me when Mottram was passed on the top bend and said: "Don't worry, he'll come back at him,". He didn't but what a race anyway. Jana Pittman's 400m hurdles gold was memorable for totally different reasons, though again the crowd played a huge part in the drama. When she was on the start-line, my stomach was fluttering because I just did not want her to lose because of the amount of stick she had been receiving in the media. The tension was thick but she was cheered all the way round and even with Brits in the field I was pleased she won because I think she can now move on.
I also got very attached to life at the Aquatics Centre even though I would spend most of my time running between my seat in the stand and the mixed zone to speak to the athletes. The funny thing is when you watch the swimmers go through the water, there is often lots of splashing but they don't appear to be going that fast. Then you see the finish time and you realise just how pedestrian you must look in your local leisure centre and how brilliant the elite swimmers are. One of the swimming highlights remains the poolside haka presented to gold medallist Moss Burmester by his team-mates.
Melbourne Lows: Injuries to many of the home nations' best medal hopes took some of the excitement out of the Games. Gymnast Beth Tweddle (ankle), diver Leon Taylor (shoulder) and athletes Paula Radcliffe (foot), Tim Benjamin (knee) and Jason Gardener (back) to name a few. I will also disappointed to see Northern Ireland's athlete Jame McIlroy under-perform but maybe Melbourne came too soon for him.
Melbourne Surprise: I think weightlifting is now one of THE best spectator sports. The drama, the sweat, the pain - the Britpop musical interludes. When is the next weightlifting event on in the UK?
Melbourne Mistakes: If you are my boss look away now. Rushing down to speak to the athletes is one of the best things about coming out and reporting on live sport BUT sometimes you do get muddled up. I think I already mentioned England baskeball player and New Yorker Fab Flournoy, accusing me of asking a ridiculous question when I asked him if he considered himself to be English. I also squashed Asafa Powell's hand with my elbow when he was leaning on the railings doing his post-race interviews. And when I was speaking to Welsh table tennis player Adam Robertson, I kept calling him Nathan (obviously I had another racquet sport in mind). When I apologised Adam said: "I thought I would just answer anyway."
The Melbourne Stalker Award While Prince Edward was on Matt's trail, I seemed to be followed by Australian Prime Minister John Howard. He was there at the swimming, hockey, cycling, netball, athletics ....
Melbourne Moment: The England-Scotland one-two in the men's 4x200m swimming relay was just sensational. The home nations knocked the Australian favourites out of it and then went head-to-head right down to the final metres. Similarly, the Scotland-England one-two in the men's cycling team sprint was another brilliant game of cat-and-mouse to watch and I think deep down everyone wanted the Scots to win.
There were also plenty of times when you could not take your eyes off the underdog. In the men's 5,000m the tiny Papa New Guinean Sapolai Yao was still finishing by the time Craig Mottram had done his post-race interviews but he was clapped all the way. It was a similar story in the pool, particularly watching the Sri Lankans in the relays. And everyone was talking about the weightlifters who fell over backwards, fell with the bar trapped on their neck or just dramatically let the weight roll forward towards the judges.
Melbourne madness: The most bizarre moment for me was when Prime Minister Tony Blair said hello to me when I was working at the MCG. A few minutes later, Michael Johnson came over to chat about his column for the website and said "Hey honey," and totally out-smoothed the PM. MJ for PM, anyone?
And on that note, I sign off to catch more sleep.
The Commonwealth Games are over and already Melbourne's attentions have moved on to Formula One and this weekend's Australian Grand Prix. But I thought I'd use my last blog entry of the Games to look back at some of my highs and lows of the last two weeks.
High: Watching Dean Macey finally win a major championship gold - in the decathlon - was superb and surprisingly emotional. It wasn't just his achievement that was captivating but the interview I did with him afterwards.
Worth a mention: There were a host of events that caught the eye, gymnastics and synchronised diving among those that surprised me having never seen them live before. But the other stand-out moment was when the Kenyan rugby sevens squad joined in with a perfect rendition of the Tongan haka. Rarely did an Aussie crowd go so nuts throughout the Games.
Low: I'd talked to Chris Hoy and a lot of the British cycling boys in the build-up to the action in the velodrome. All the talk had been that Hoy was destined to win gold in the men's kilometre time trial and that England's Jason Queally was the only real rival. In the end, they were both trumped by Australian Ben Kersten.
Best event: The mountain biking in a national park about 50km out of town where competitors raced in glorious sunshine. Kangaroos crossing the racing line actually caused brief delays to the women's race.
Worst event: The women's 1m springboard final - from the first round of divers you could call the gold to bronze, such was the difference in standard. I've got to confess I actually nodded off during it and was busted doing so on the big screen apparently.
Best interview: Turks and Caicos shooter Bradley Taylor, who had swapped his life as a New York prison officer to compete in Melbourne. He was so excited about the prospect of an interview he brought the whole of the Turks and Caicos team with him. For what it's worth, Viv Richards was a close second.
Favourite volunteer: Les the bus driver, who took me on a private tour of the city on my return from the athletes' village, and broke into occasional song.
Least favourite volunteer: Scary spice, as she became known, at the weightlifting venue. She scared the hell out of me and kept me and my colleagues on edge throughout the competition.
The Melbourne stalker award: Prince Edward - whenever I turned up at a venue he seemed to follow five minutes later.
Favourite commentator: The guy at the afternoon session of the weighlifting. He would have given John Motson a run for his money in terms of anorak information. He had magical snippets - that one Canadian lifter enjoyed moose hunting, while a Sierra Leone competitor was a London PE teacher.
Most out of my depth moment: When I led the gymnastics interviews in the mixed zone in front of 20 other journalists from around the globe.
Most comedy moment: Having 200-odd Australians laughing at me after getting busted by the police for crossing the road at a red light.
Best athlete's name: Swissroll Ngozo - he actually changed his name because of his love of swissroll.
Anyway, just want to finally say thanks to those of you who read the blog over the last couple of weeks.
- 26 Mar 06, 07:14 AM
It was not the end the Australia home crowd wanted but then they have gorged themselves on the gold rush as it is. New Zealand's women took the final gold of the 2006 Commonwealth Games in an electrifying netball final accompanied by screams, boos and ear-popping cheers. Pockets of black-shirted Kiwis rocketed up out of their seats as their amazonian women clinched the last prize 60-55. Any New Zealand victory would not be complete without the Haka and I could not believe I had to wait a whole 10 minutes before the men finally got it together. It was worth the wait - after seeing the swimmers do it topless, this time I saw a trio of silver-haired foxes in action. You didn't think I was going to say bottomless did you?
I've just seen my last live event of the Commonwealth Games - the final of the mixed doubles badminton - and I've got to say it was great to see Gail Emms and Nathan Robertson win it. They were both all smiles afterwards. Nathan admitted he had been watched by his parents throughout the tournament while Gail said that sadly none of her family had made the trip. As a result, she joked she was putting herself up for adoption. She said: "Nathan's parents have taken me under her wing and looked after me here as have some of the England girls' mums. It's been great... oh, and I had my friend Lucy break off her round-the-world travels to watch me in the final."
- 26 Mar 06, 04:53 AM
I can see things are beginning to unravel on the final day of competition here in Melbourne. After treking all the way up to the State Netball & Hockey Centre, I find out the netball medal matches have been transferred to the Multi-Purpose Venue - known by locals as the Vodafone Arena. Luckily, Melbournians Rikki and Mark offer me a lift straight back to the MPV. I find out that the things to do on holiday next week in Melbourne are going out, going out and going out. I think we are on to a winner.
Someone else who knows a thing or two about Melbourne is England shooter Abby Teare. She was born in Melbourne and spent some time growing up here before moving to England. Apparently, when the team have been cruising round the city in the mini-bus, Abby has had to sit in the front seat as the navigator.
- 26 Mar 06, 02:16 AM
It is 32 degrees in Melbourne (sorry do I say that every day?) and I am off to spend the final day of action at the State Netball & Hockey Centre to watch the closing stages of the netball competition. The netball is a hot ticket in Melbourne and the form has worked out perfectly - world number four England play world number three Jamaica for bronze while world number one New Zealand play the world number two Australia in the gold medal match.
Although I have been up to the Centre for the past two days now, I have not really warmed to it. I had been warned about a shower of bugs that rains downs from the floodlights once darkness sets in. Of course, I had taken no heed until beetles began dropping from the sky at the end of day one on the hockey. I had to dash inside. Apparently, the beetles start of as the normal UK size, then ones sized like two-pence pieces fall, then huge ones as big as flattened golf balls start raining down. The BBC radio boys had to sit their with their collars tightly up, caps on and jackets zipped - it did not bother the locals officials, though.
It's the last day of action at the Commonwealth Games and I've sauntered down to the women's road race. Nicole Cooke was among the pre-race favourites but she's not had the ideal start and is two-and-a-half minutes off an early breakaway group. There's still plenty of time but she faces immensely stiff opposition from the Australian team. At their media conference the other day they were overflowing with confidence, talking of their strongest line-up ever. They even went as far as to tip themselves for not just a one-two-three but to take all five of the top spots. It remains to be seen whether Cooke can mess that up.
I'm feeling a tad sentimental with the boxing having finished and organisers already packing away everything. It proved a stunning night for the British boxers, with England winning five golds and the Scots one amid a truly awesome atmosphere. Since the boxing finished the volunteers have swarmed the ring to pose for photos, with one pair even acting out a faux fight.
Despite all the golds, the stand-out moment for me tonight was when Darran Langley realised he had lost out on light flyweight gold. He slumped to his knees and put his head in his hands. Worse was to follow when he initially arrived in the interview area. His team coach Terry Edwards had to take him away for two minutes as he burst into tears just ahead of his first interview. He bravely controlled his emotions after his time-out for a series of interviews, which won praise from Edwards himself. "That took guts," he told me.
- 25 Mar 06, 10:29 AM
It was nice to see the MCG folk had rolled out the red carpet for me in the media area. Oh, it turns out it was for Prime Minister Tony Blair and his wife Cherie instead. Mr & Mrs Blair showed perfect timing, taking their seats just as 'Land Of Hope and Glory' was er blaring out as Phillips Idowu received his triple jump gold. Phillips has apparently been called for an audience with the PM. Well, at least he can prove he is patriotic but he'll have to poke out his tongue at Tony to do it. Phillips showed me his new tongue piercings - two circular England flags.
- 25 Mar 06, 07:42 AM
British javelin hero Steve Backley was back in the centre field as the men's javelin competition kicked off the final night of athletics at the MCG. But there was to be no second swansong for the 37-year-old - he had come onto the field to do an interview on the beauty of the javelin before he returned to his duties as a Five Live summariser. In fact, the three-time Commonwealth gold medallist prefers golf these days and if he strikes the ball like he threw the spear he could give Monty a run for his money. The organisers of the javelin are behaving like big kids. No honestly, they are using a big remote-controlled car to carry the javelin back-and-forth up the field. Everyone, is full of cheer at a near-capacity MCG - the Australian team even decided to turn some cartwheels after collecting bronze in the women's 4x100m.
Australian boxer Brad Pitt lived up to his nickname "Hollywood" with a fairytale ending to his Commonwealth bid - a gold medal. But it was hardly a blockbuster as he and India's Harpreet Singh fought a tentative bout. The session was dominated by England, who came away with three golds from a possible three... but it's not been plain sailing in the England camp.
According to assistant coach Paul Walmsley, there's been a spate of injuries. He chipped his teeth when he was accidentally hit in the face when an official removed one of the English boxer's clothing ringside. And another member of the team damaged his hamstring after jumping up and down to celebrate super heavyweight David Price's semi-final win. For the record, Prince Edward's with me ringside once again. That guy just won't leave me alone.
- 25 Mar 06, 03:53 AM
I have been lured back to the hockey, to sit in sizzling 32 degrees of sun and watch the England women come through a nail-biting match with New Zealand to take bronze. Steeling their nerves after 70 minutes of tense play in this blistering heat cannot have been easy but England came through on penalties thanks to two saves from goalkeeper Carolyn Reid. The 33-year-old revealed the secret of her shot-stopping skills - red contact lenses. Stupidly, I had assumed she was being patriotic by wearing red for England but apparently they have been designed by Nike to take away the glare from the sun. Reid, who is competing in her third Games, believes New Zealand's players could have missed their shots for another reason too: "The lenses make me look like the devil!"
There's just 15 minutes to go before the boxing finals get under way in Melbourne. There's a potential for seven golds from British fighters tonight, with one already guaranteed. Jamie Cox, who has been boxing under the name James Russan (it's officially his name in his passport), has already grabbed gold for England in the light welterweight after a walkover against his Lesotho opponent. Former world heavyweight champion George Foreman is reportedly among the distinguished VIPs in the arena. Another former world champion, Richie Woodhall, is here as a BBC commentator and has swapped his T-shirt and shorts of the previous rounds for a shirt and tie. "You've always got to dress up for finals day," he told me.
Mark Nicholas, the host presenter for Channel 9's Commonwealth Games coverage, may be smoothness personified when on camera. But it transpires that's not always the case in every day life. This morning he was spotted entering the media centre here in Melbourne for the usual security checks sipping on, appropriately enough, a smoothie. Somewhat bizarrely he popped his drink on the conveyor belt to go through the X-ray machine much to the amusement of the assembled security staff.
- 24 Mar 06, 10:32 AM
Fab Flournoy will be delighted to come away with a bronze medal for England as basketball made its Commonwealth Games debut - and with great success too, judging by the packed crowds at the multi-purpose venue.
Fab has another first - he is the only athlete to accuse me of asking a ridiculous question, though he did it in the nicest possible way. The 32-year-old was born and raised in the Bronx and so I asked him if he considered England to be his country. He said he had lived in the UK for 15 years and so was proud to play for Queen and country. Well he did Her Maj proud in Melbourne.
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