NEW DELHI (AFP) - The Commonwealth Games ended on Thursday after 11 days of fiery competition that went some way to mending the damage done to Indian pride and prestige tarnished by the chaotic buildup to the event.
|Fireworks explode over the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium during the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony in New Delhi
The drama of the last of the 272 gold medals provided the perfect ending for the Indian hosts as poster girl Saina Nehwal saved a match point against Malaysia’s Wong Mew Choo in winning the women’s singles badminton title.
That was India’s 38th gold, one clear of England and for the first time ensuring them second place in the Commonwealth Games medals table. Australia were runaway winners with 74 golds and a total of 176.
“This was the toughest match of my career,” said Nehwal.
“I couldn’t sleep and I had a lot of tension, which meant I did not always play at my best. All Indian players face that here, but for me I only get it in finals.”
Wong had nearly beaten the Hyderabad heroine in the team event six days previously, and would have done so in straight games this time had Nehwal’s kill at the net at 20-21 travelled a fraction further.
Instead it landed plumb on the baseline and soon afterwards India was celebrating.
Nehwal’s win also eased Indian pain from earlier in the day when their men’s hockey team crashed 8-0 to world champions Australia in a record loss.
Earlier, Kenya finished top nation in athletics by winning the men’s and women’s marathon races and New Zealand defended their netball title in a cliff-hanger over Australia.
With just the closing ceremony to go later in the evening, there was relief on the part of the organisers that the Games had gone off without a major security lapse, even if the precautions taken meant that events like the marathon and cycling road races took place in eery isolation.
But other issues remained to be put under the microscope, notably over the way that New Delhi staggered into the competition with filthy athletes’ accomodation, crumbling infrastructure and health concerns.
Media covering the event were also incensed by a shambolic Games information system that left them struggling to gather even the most basic of news items.
The very future of the Commonwealth Games seemed to be on the line at times, 80 years after it first sprung into life as the British Empire Games.
Commonwealth Games chief Mike Fennell saluted Delhi 2010, but admitted that the creaking showpiece needs to rethink its timing and rebrand its image.
“Last year I gave a press conference here and I was asked if there was a Plan B. I said Plan B was Delhi and Delhi has performed,” he said.
Despite his praise for the Games, Fennell admitted that the timing of the event, already being held in a jam-packed sports calendar and in a year which has already seen a Winter Olympics and football World Cup, needs to be reviewed.
“It’s a challenge. We have to ensure that we attract the best athletes. For track and field, October is not the best month. Some are back at school and for many the season is over,” he said.
“It’s important to attract the best athletes and impress on them that it’s important for the careers. We have to rebuild the brand ahead of Glasgow in 2014.”
Kenya’s marathon double through John Kelai and Irene Kosgei bore testimony to one country which did decide to send their top athletes.
The big and strong Kelai took control of the men’s race with around 25 minutes to go when he made his move with a subtle increase in pace that took him away from the field.
“I’m so humbled to win here, it is an honour,” said Kelai.
“This is for my country, the people, the coaches and officials. All of us are going to celebrate. When you can win at this level you know you have reached your peak.”
In a race run in difficult circumstances with hot and humid weather, Kosgei was also crowned champion, claiming Kenya’s first-ever Commonwealth Games women’s marathon title.