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Thursday, 1 August, 2002, 08:41 GMT 09:41 UK

Golden finale for athletics

By Tom Fordyce
BBC Sport Online in Manchester

The athletics at the 2002 Commonwealth Games ended in a blaze of glory on Wednesday night to round off a brilliantly successful tournament.

Six gold medals made it one of the best nights for English athletics for a long time - and that was just the icing on the cake of six nights of superb competition.

Incredibly narrow victories in the men's 4x100m and 4x400m relays kept spectators on the edge of their seats.

And there were individual golds for Steve Backley in the javelin, triple jumper Ashia Hansen, and Mike East and Kelly Holmes in the 1,500m.

"The noise was such that the hairs stood up on the back of your neck"

It was a fitting end to events in the new City of Manchester Stadium, which throughout the Games has proved itself to be a better setting than anyone could have dreamed.

Forget the individual highlights for a second.

To have 38,000 screaming fans packing the City of Manchester Stadium for all six nights was something special.

Even the morning sessions were three-quarters full - and that is almost unheard of at a major championships.

Those English athletes who won gold in front of the Manchester crowd will never forget the reception they were given.

Every single English competitor was cheered to the gleaming rafters, regardless of their ability or experience.

"Do not let the magic of Manchester dissipate over the next few years"

And when the big names came out and responded with stellar performances, the noise was such that the hairs stood up on the back of your neck.

The men's 100m might have disappointed. It was about all that did.

Take your pick from the rest:

  • Wilberforce Talel outsprinting Paul Kosgei and John Yuda in the last few yards to win the 10,000m.

  • Jonathan Edwards and Ashia Hansen pulling huge jumps out of the bag when it really mattered to win their triple jumps.

  • Kelly Holmes and Michael East taking 1,500m gold - the latter the first British man to win a major middle distance title in 12 years.

  • Debbie Ferguson doing the 100m and 200m double by a street and adding a relay gold for good measure.

  • Daniel Caines and Matt Elias going neck-and-neck to the line in the 4x400m relay.

  • Cathy Freeman defying her husband's illness to claim her fourth Commonwealth gold in the women's 4x400m.

    Then there was Darren Campbell, the boy from Moss Side, nabbing bronze in the 200m.

    He admitted afterwards that he had been low enough during his time out injured to consider suicide - and then anchored the England team home to 100m relay gold by a thousandth of a second.

    Better than all that, in this writer's opinion, was Paula Radcliffe utterly destroying the British and Commonwealth 5,000m record and winning her first track gold at the 10th attempt.

    When she stood on that podium, set against the backdrop of a near-perfect blue sky turning purple as night set in, a thousand flags of St George waving in the stands, Radcliffe could do nothing but grin.

    Even among the cynical old hacks in the media seats, there were plenty doing the same.

    Radcliffe's triumph, and those of Ferguson, Edwards and Maria Mutola, also refuted the allegation most frequently aimed at the Commonwealth Games - that medals come cheap when the standard is not world class.

    So much of what we saw in Manchester was.

    At the heart of the Games, however, lies a sad truth: Britain will follow all this success with nothing.

    Uncertain future

    Not directly - the European Championships next week will see many athletes still riding this wave of success.

    But beyond that?

    Over 300,000 people have watched the track and field action over the past week. But it is the last athletics the stadium will see.

    The track is being torn up, the arena being taken over by Manchester City.

    British athletics needs to seize this golden opportunity.

    Do not let the magic of Manchester dissipate over the next few years - use it to take the sport in this country to a new level.

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