NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Australia won the opening skirmish in the Delhi pool Monday by claiming three of the five medals up for grabs as the athletes finally took center stage at the troubled Commonwealth Games.
The day opened with the host nation still basking in the afterglow of Sunday’s hugely successful opening ceremony, which organizers hoped would mark the end of a miserable few weeks for the image of the host country.
After a chaotic run up to the Games where corruption, shoddy construction, health and security issues brought into question India’s ability to host the event, a farcical weigh-in at the boxing was a comparatively modest flaw on the first day.
Australia have long ruled the roost in the pool at the Commonwealth Games but this year expected a stronger challenge from British swimmers.
Golds for Kylie Palmer in the 200m freestyle, Alicia Coutts in the 200m medley and for the men’s 4x100m freestyle relay team, however, put Australia firmly in charge on day one. “It is an awesome feeling,” said Palmer. “You can’t get any better than winning a gold medal.”
The men’s gymnastics team later added another gold in the team competition to leave Australia top of the medals table, a position they have occupied after 10 of the previous 18 Games.
Ryan Napoleon came so close to making it five golds out of eight for Australia on day one but lost by 0.11 seconds to Canada’s Ryan Cochrane in the men’s 400 freestyle.
“Ryan is a great swimmer and he just got me in the end,” said Napoleon, whose preparations for the Games were disrupted after an ultimately overturned ban for taking a banned substance.
There was further disappointment for Australia with gold medal favorite Nick D’Arcy leaving the pool in tears after failing to qualify for the final of his only event.
“It’s pretty tough. I didn’t go as well as I wanted,” said D’Arcy, who missed the Beijing Olympics after being banned for punching a team mate. “It’s a big international event so it hurts, but there are bigger and better things in the coming years.”
South Africa’s Chad Le Clos took advantage of D’Arcy’s absence to win the 200m butterfly gold.
Another Australian, Emily Seebohm, came up short in the first of her eight bids for gold at the Games, finishing second behind Coutts in the 200m medley.
“It was a hard race but I lost to a great competitor,” said the 18-year-old. “I’m glad I lost to an Aussie though.”
Nigerian schoolgirl weightlifter Augustina Nwakolo grabbed the first medal of the Games, disappointing an expectant host nation who were banking on favorite Soniya Chanu.
The 17-year-old jumped into the arms of her coach to celebrate a clear victory in the women’s 48kg, leaving Chanu with silver ahead of compatriot Sandhya Rani Devi.
Malyasia’s Hamizan Amirul won the final gold of the day in the men’s in the men’s 56kg weightlifting with Indians again winning silver and bronze.
Those disappointments failed to dent the improved mood in India after Sunday’s spectacular opening ceremony.
“The show did more than just entertain those present,” influential daily The Hindu said on its front page.
“It left the audience upbeat and restored the country’s pride that has been so badly bruised in the weeks gone by.”
The huge security operation which caused long delays for dignitaries getting into the opening ceremony remains in place around the city.
Some athletes withdrew because of concerns about security in India, which have been particularly acute after the militant attacks on Mumbai which killed more than 100 people in November 2008.
The first day did not pass off without some problems and inaccurate test scales had a string of boxers unnecessarily trying to shed weight at the Talkatora Indoor Stadium.
“The athletes weighed themselves on the test scales, and found themselves to be over. They got back to the sauna trying to lose some weight and when they came back, they weighed more than the last reading,” Australia team spokesperson John Gatfield told Reuters. “It was really ridiculous.”
Competition manager Lenni Gama said the scales were “perfect.”
“All this fuss is created by the teams who have overweight boxers in their team,” he said.
Swimming, cycling, gymnastics, shooting, weightlifting and wrestling offer 18 golds on Tuesday’s second day of competition. The Games close on October 14.