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Thursday, 1 August, 2002, 06:42 GMT 07:42 UK

Home comforts lift England

By Charlie Henderson
BBC Sport Online in Manchester

The Commonwealth Games is finding support just about everywhere in Manchester, and none more so than among the athletes involved.

They have been cheered on by knowledgable capacity crowds in the vast majority of the venues and pushed to new heights.

To date there have been 65 Commonwealth records and five world records set in Manchester.

Australia's Ian Thorpe, who set a new world best in the 400m freestyle, is just the latest in a long line of competitors to sing the praises of both the Games and Manchester.

"I'm really enjoying the meet - I've never been so relaxed in my life," he said.

"When I came out I was dancing to the music, I was being an idiot, having so much fun.

"I've been very fortunate in that there's been a lot of support for me and the Australian team - I can't walk down the street without being recognised."

"It was really hard to concentrate with all the noise - the crowd were brilliant"
Kanukai Jackson,
Gymnastic gold

The Friendly Games have lived up to their name and support for all athletes has been one of the features of Manchester.

Perhaps the only winner who was not roundly cheered was 100m champion Kim Collins.

As he crossed the line the City of Manchester Stadium was too busy taking in the shock of seeing both Dwain Chambers and Mark Lewis-Francis pull up lame to hail a new champion.

However, when the sprinter set out on his lap of honour, normal service was soon resumed.

Chambers and Lewis-Francis apart, it is Team England that has understandably benefited from this support the most.

The team's stated ambition ahead of the Games was to surpass their efforts in Kuala Lumpur four years ago.

At the halfway stage they are well on their way to achieving that aim and in so doing accumulate their best medal haul since 1990.

Playing the home card is nothing new in the Commonwealth Games.

In the last 12 years New Zealand, Canada and Malaysia have all enjoyed improved results when holding the Games.

Four years ago in Kuala Lumpur the hosts, with 10 titles, matched the number of golds they had won in the preceding 32 years.

Hosts always play politics in the sporting schedules and Malaysia's haul of 36 medals included six in tenpin bowling, a sport making its Commonwealth debut.

Four years on it is not on the agenda, but judo, a sport in which England excel, is back after a 12-year absence.

If the hosts reach their target, England's athletes will be paying an even greater thanks for the support they received as extra funding will no doubt follow.

Be it in heats or finals, gymnastics or cycling, partisan crowds clad in red and white have roared their own to the roof.

"Winning in my own backyard in front of a partisan crowd was perfect - it was like something out of a film"
Mick Jones,
Hammer gold

And that support helps explain why that for every Chambers or Lewis-Francis in the athletics there has been a Shaw, Jones or Morgan.

Lorraine Shaw set the standard on the opening night when she won gold in the hammer.

Fellow hammer thrower Mick Jones and long jumper Nathan Morgan have since followed her lead in surpassing all expectations and winning titles.

England's athletes have benefited from a phenomenom that they must wish they could bottle and take to Munich for the European Championships and beyond.


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