Australian domination continues

Melbourne, March 26:

A joke does the rounds that Australians are so crazy about sport they’d bet on two flies crawling up the wall of an outhouse.

If it’s set for Melbourne, this line usually is appended: And thousands of people will turn up to watch.

It’s close to the truth. Melbourne hosted the biggest Commonwealth Games, selling more than 1.5 million tickets across 12 days of competition on a 16-sport programme. Australia’s domination of a fifth consecutive Commonwealth Games — winning a record 84 gold medals and 221 overall — was bookended by opening and closing ceremonies. Despite Jamaica claiming golden doubles in the men’s and women’s 100 and 200 metres, high hurdles and sprint relays — including a pair of titles for 100-metre world record holder Asafa Powell — and a sprinkling of world and Olympic champions, Australia’s No 1-ranking in track and field reflected a lack of deep competition.

Organisers went over budget on security, spending more than $100 million on a safety net. There was nothing stopping those wanting to leave the village, however. After a Tanzanian boxer and a Bangladeshi runner went missing, 14 members of the Sierra Leone team left in groups.

Organisers revoked accreditation for the Sierra Leone athletes, meaning they would become illegal immigrants unless they contacted authorities.

Leaders of the old Empire came back, with British monarch Queen Elizabeth II opening the games and British PM Tony Blair arriving for the closing.

US track great Michael Johnson, who owns the 200- and 400m world records, was not the only high-profile American to visit the games. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spent a night at the swimming, getting some tips from Ian Thorpe, and George Foreman did some commentary work at the boxing.

In an unexpected record run, Canada’s Alexandra Orlando won four rhythmic gymnastics gold medals to go with her earlier wins in the team event and individual all-around for a share of the record.

That lifted Canada to third place on the medal standings with 26 gold and 86 overall — well behind Australia and second place England (36 gold and 110 overall).

India was fourth in the standings with 22 gold medals and 50 overall.

India received the Commonwealth Games flag from Melbourne in the closing ceremonies. Next stop: New Delhi 2010.