Silver Ferns put glow on Games of woe

By David Leggat, Stuart Dye

As the Silver Ferns celebrated the best possible finale to the Commonwealth Games, calls were mounting for an inquiry into New Zealand's poor performance overall.

The netballers beat Australia to claim New Zealand's sixth gold and take the medal tally to 31 from the Melbourne Games.

Goal shoot Irene van Dyk epitomised the players' relief and delight by gleefully hurling the ball high into the rafters of the stadium at the final whistle.

"It's an incredible feeling to be on top of the world," van Dyk said.

Large blocks of black-clad New Zealand supporters were in the packed stadium, including injured player Jodi Te Huna, cruelly ruled out of the Games just days before the opening ceremony but tearfully embracing her teammates beside the court.

New Zealand's win allowed the world champions to confirm the edge they have gained over Australia in the past few years.

"It was a great game, but I thought we kept our steel," said Silver Ferns coach Ruth Aitken.

New Zealand's sixth gold followed those of butterfly swimmer Moss Burmester, the rugby sevens, trap shooter Graeme Ede, shot putter Valerie Vili and 1500m runner Nick Willis.

The jubilation on court could not disguise the fact that overall it was a disappointing effort from the Games team, the largest to be sent overseas so far. And New Zealand's Games group had to handle criticism over boxer Soulan Pownceby - selected despite a manslaughter conviction - and intense scrutiny after drunken antics at the team village.

The results fell well short of the 11 golds (and 45 in total) claimed in Manchester four years ago and could not match the 34-medal haul in Kuala Lumpur in 1998.

It was the worst return for a New Zealand team since the Games were last held in Australia - in Brisbane 24 years ago when New Zealanders returned with 26 medals.

The swimmers were New Zealand's most successful unit this time, winning one gold, one silver and four bronze, leading the track and field team with two golds, one silver and one bronze.

Triathlon, winning three of the six medals at stake, could also claim some glory but the shooters and track/road cyclists, with three each, fell well short of expectations.

The Government's funding agency, Sport and Recreation New Zealand (Sparc), had predicted a haul of 46 medals, with chief executive Nick Hill saying if there were fewer than 40 medals, "people would be entitled to ask some pretty serious questions".

Les Mills, who represented the country at four Olympic and four Commonwealth Games, criticised a "short-term view" which funded elite athletes instead of a comprehensive coaching system.

John Walker, former 800m and 1500m Olympic and Commonwealth medallist, said there needed to be a deep-rooted change from "politically correct attitudes" in schools where taking part was everything and winning was nothing.

New Zealand finished ninth on the medal table.

Australia was first with a huge tally of 221, including 84 golds, followed by England with 110 and Canada with 86.

Mr Hill stood by the decision to release a pre-Games target.

He was happy with the performance of athletics and swimming, and with triathlon, but gave a "must do better" report card for shooting, bowls and cycling.

"It's disappointing but I'm reluctant to say failure," Mr Hill said.

"I would say a wake-up call."

Government investment in sport and recreation totalled $44.24 million in 2005-2006.

Mr Hill said a post-Games review would not be the catalyst for radical change, but was likely to have long-term implications.

"The question we have to ask is what does it take to win in the future? Is it more money? Is it changing fundamentally flawed programmes?"

You say:

Maybe the Commonwealth Games should be renamed the Comingfourth games. Seriously though, coming fourth isn't too bad when you consider that for every one of us there is about 500 of them in the Commonwealth.
- Tony Sullivan, St Heliers

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