One of the biggest jobs organisers of the
Commonwealth Games gave themselves was convincing the Australian public the
event is not a second rate Olympics. “Some of the world’s greatest athletes,”
went the phrase, rather than, “The best the world has to offer.”

It’s selling the Australian public short to
suggest we don’t already know that and, in reality, does it dampen enthusiasm
for the event? As organisers told us, even without a truly world class
competition, there are still great athletes in attendance and while they’re
not being pushed to the limit by their competitors they are still performing at
a high level. That’s what great athletes do.

Last night, two performances underlined
this. In the seemingly endless swimming competition, due to finish around July,
we are told, Leisel Jones decimated her opposition in the 100 metres butterfly
and knocked half a second off a her own world record.

Such is the competitiveness of athletes
like Jones, the clock is as much an opponent as those swimming alongside her. This
morning, the superlatives are being applied to her performance with a trowel.

Asafa Powell, the current world record
holder for the 100 metres, is another athlete who never looked pushed by
opponents, cruising to victory in the men’s 100 metre final. His lead up races were effortless,
switching off after 40 or 50 metres and almost strolling across the line. Given
how little he was trying and still running close to 10 seconds, he looked
poised to run the final in about 6 seconds. His opponents won’t have failed to
notice that.

Like Jones, he is a spectacle. Watching him
on the track for 10.03 seconds (his winning time last night) is worth the price
of admission alone, as the saying goes. He may never again compete in Melbourne, but watching
someone great, even without any meaningful competition, is often enough for
people who appreciate sport.

But if you surrounded them with seven
opponents of similarly freakish ability, well, then you’d really have something
to tell the grandkids about.

Peter Fray

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