'Melbourne, you are the best!'

Just magic Games end with a flourish 

Boy, do we rock!

IT was the most spectacular, stunning, sensational, snappy, sizzling and gob-smacking show ever seen in Australia.

The MCG . . . ROCKED!

Last night's closing extravaganza beat not only our Commonwealth Games opener but also, arguably, both the opening and closing ceremonies of the Sydney Olympics.

From the opening riff from a guitarist from Grinspoon, swooping down from the top of the Great Southern Stand to the final chords of John Farnham singing You're the Voice, triggering the greatest fireworks display ever seen in Melbourne, last night's closing ceremony was a winner.

The fireworks display was ordered up by Dame Edna Everage as 1000 Ednas waved gladioli, all lit by 22,000 lights, and danced a Busby Berkeley routine.

On giant screens, the Dame herself sang a special song, which concluded with the delirious screech:

As the world gets scarier
It's a pretty decent area
The envy of the world.

The show lasted over two hours and involved a cast of more than 4500 volunteers.

It featured everything from living Skipping Girls, a homage to the famous Abbotsford neon sign, dancing Sweetheart lollies, a snowstorm and a thunderous sideshow from India, with a cast of hundreds of dancers, put on by the host of the next Commonwealth Games in Delhi.

Footballers burst through a Mighty Melbourne banner and kicked Sherrins end to end to start our show and demonstrate to the world this was uniquely Melbourne.

Dancers in AFL colours then paid a tribute to Alex Jesaulenko's famous 1970 Grand Final mark.

As Paul Kelly sang Leaps and Bounds, Melbourne landmarks were featured -- crowds in front of Flinders St station . . . women in amazing hats surrounding the Melbourne Cup as 10 jockeys raced by on hobby horses . . . Shakespeares pacing around the Arts Centre spire . . . children feeding ping pong balls into clowns from Luna Park.

Taking up the message were scores of people representing over 100 different cultures, each carrying a photograph of an ancestor who made the original journey to settle in Melbourne. The photographs were later reversed to form a giant representation of Federation Square.

The 14,000 who helped make these Games such a success then had their own tribute. As Sarah Blasko sang Don't Dream It's Over, volunteers paraded and the MCG was enveloped with snowflakes.

The formalities followed as the flags of the 71 competing teams and their representatives came on to the arena, some moving down the aisles of the MCG, as the capacity crowd cheered.

Lord Mayor John So received the biggest cheers of the night whenever his name was mentioned.

"Melbourne, we did it!" declared jubilant Games chairman Ron Walker before the Commonwealth Games Federation flag was handed over to the next host nation, India, for the 2010 Games.

The MCG then erupted with a spectacular show from India that featured Bollywood heart-throbs Saif Ali Khan and Rani Mukherjee, whirling with hundreds of performers in a spinning sun dance before a giant chariot arrived with drummers, Indian sports stars and India's 2000 Miss Universe, Lara Dutta, and 2000 Miss World Priyanka Chopra aboard.

The Indian extravaganza climaxed with a fireworks display in the national colours of saffron, white and green. It was a foretaste of the fireworks to come -- over 8900 different pyrotechnic effects.

The opening ceremony's live white duck made a surprise 30-second farewell on centre stage and Casey Donovan sang Better to Love, as a special thank you to the athletes began.

But, as Aussie swim stalwart Michael Klim responded on behalf of the competitors, he was suddenly interrupted by Dame Edna Everage on the MCG's giant video screens.

She couldn't be at the MCG in person because she was "carrying the Melbourne message to those poor possums in the United States who have no idea why they haven't been invited to participate in the Commonwealth Games".

"They don't even know where Australia is, poor darlings, or anywhere else for that matter, bless them."

Suddenly, a flood of "little Ednas" flowed onto the arena with their lighted gladdies, and the grand Dame called for "Fireworks!"

As Melbourne erupted in a light show fantastic, a winged Edna, dressed as a tram conductor, flew into the air from the top of a human pyramid at centre stage.

And when John Farnham sang You're the Voice, massed bagpipers keened, the orchestra swelled, the athletes poured on to the arena and the whole of central Melbourne rocked along to the shattering sound and pyrotechnic spectacular, the Dame's words reverberated over and over again:

The envy of the world.


Commonwealth Games

Just magic:
Melbourne's magical Commonwealth Games
closed with a dazzling closing ceremony at the MCG.
The Games were acclaimed the best ever.
Picture: Jon Hargest
Days of gold, years of joy

PAUL Kelly sang an anthem to Melbourne last night, of the Nylex clock and the MCG. "I remember," he chorused.
And, as the Games closed, 70,000-plus fans at the MCG knew they would -- 70,000, and millions more.

Around the city, tourists snapped trams, the Yarra, clowns, the casino, St Paul's Cathedral. But the real stuff of Games memories wasn't something a camera could catch. At the Exhibition Centre, about 20 volunteers formed a guard of honour outside the badminton gates. The last spectators were cheered, clapped -- and told to hurry back to Melbourne. Any of the 15,000 smurfs would sell their grandma for a foot spa, but they still stood until the last fans left.

"Unbelievable," one bloke smiled as he walked out into the sunshine. And it was. Last night Games fans thought hard about what they would take away with them and into the years. Mottram's 5000m, Melissa Wu's synchronised dive, Jana's run, Leisel's record . . .

But fans also said they were captured by the magic that held Melbourne for a fortnight. Chambers Flat couple Brian and Susan Munro flew down from Brisbane for the Games.

"It's been pretty good -- lots of great events," Mr Munro said, while thinking of a highlight. He nominated 13-year-old diver Melissa Wu's silver and John Steffensen's gold. Then Mrs Munro nailed what made the Games great -- the spirit. "The goodwill between the participants," she said. "How the leaders eventually go back to the last runners, give them a hug."

Games volunteers are banned from speaking to newspapers, but are too polite not to. A few waiting at the MCG gates recounted their highlights. "People come up and they don't even want anything, just say, 'G'day', ask how you're liking it," one said."You could walk around town for a week normally without a hello."

The most hellos in their lifetime made the fortnight worth the foot pain. "Other volunteers were terrific, too. It's like you've got 15,000 new best mates."

Brisbane teacher Nicole Donaldson came with her sister-in-law Katrina and niece Talia, 4. Melbourne had won them over with "everyone so helpful and cheerful". But it was a personal moment that made her fortnight. "One of my past students, Jon Bernard, ran in the 100m EAD finals," she said. "We had front-row seats. He came fifth and had to get fourth to get in the final, but he was pleased. Little Talia could claim a PB, too. "I don't think she'll want to come home tomorrow," Ms Donaldson said.


The closing ceremony.

Day 11: The closing ceremony.
Farewell grins on every face

MELBOURNE has woken with its happiest hangover after a brilliant Commonwealth Games finale. A flying guitarist, ballerinas and AFL stars all played their part.
Oh yes, the athletes were there as well. Swimming star Leisel Jones led the party, carrying the Australian flag.

Grinspoon guitarist Pat Davern was suspended from a fully loaded flying system that weighed up to 30 tonnes as he worked his way down to the ground. The rocking Davern hovered 70m above the famous MCG pitch before he was lowered. Once on the ground, he joined fellow band members Phil Jamieson, Kristian Hopes and Joe Hansen to perform Hard Act to Follow as AFL footballers ran on to the ground.

As Grinspoon played Better Off Alone, ballerinas in club colours joined footballers from the 16 clubs to dance together in a remarkable spectacle. A giant sculpture of a ballerina rose from the field to join one depicting the moment Alex Jesaulenko of Carlton soared high above Collingwood's Jerker Jenkins in the 1970 Grand Final. Footballers in the ballet included Shane Crawford, Nathan Thompson, Chris Tarrant, James Hird, Russell Robinson and Brendan Fevola. As they and ballerinas formed the Commonwealth Games logo, a giant footy rose from the ground and into Jezza's hands. The crowd roared as if it was 1970 all over again.

Leisel Jones, 21, led the Australian women's dominance in the pool, winning four gold medals including one for a world record 100m breaststroke. But it was Indian shooter Samaresh Jung's night, being named the Games' outstanding performer. Jung, who won seven Games medals, was presented the David Dixon Award by Commonwealth Games Federation president Mike Fennell. It was a fitting result, with a host of Bollywood stars at the G taking part in an 11-minute performance showcasing the 2010 Games in Delhi.

More than 4000 athletes from 71 nations and territories spilled back into the stadium for the sensational send-off. The biggest roar of the night was reserved for the Aussies, who lapped up the love from 70,000 fans as the parade wound its way around the stadium.

The green and gold army won a total of 221 medals, including 84 gold. The athletes spilled on to the MCG as one. Athletes and officials from different sports and nations laughed and joked together, casting aside sporting rivalries. Some jumped on shoulders to get a better view, while others were busy recording the moment.

For many athletes who could not march in the opening ceremony in preparation for events, this was the time to party, set free from the weight of pressure and expectation they carried into the Games. Opening night nerves were replaced with big, beaming smiles as the athletes boogied to some of Australia's biggest acts, including John Farnham.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Australian Prime Minister John Howard and Earl of Wessex Prince Edward looked on from the royal box under heavy security. Mr Blair took time out to tell the Herald Sun he was loving his stint in Melbourne to take in the final day of competition and the city's festivities. "I'm delighted to be here," he said. "What could be better?" They joined Governor-General Michael Jeffery, Premier Steve Bracks and Games Minister Justin Madden in the Queen's royal box.

And the man responsible for it all, M2006 chairman Ron Walker, cast a proud figure. Crowd favourite Lord Mayor John So, Opposition Leader Kim Beazley and former premier John Cain were on the A-list. In the MCC Long Room, a host of celebrities and business leaders, including Eddie McGuire and Bali bomb survivor Jason McCartney, were wined and dined by the NAB.

Police reported just one security breach about 4pm when a man tried to scale the perimeter fence. He was arrested and taken to hospital for mental health checks.

The smiling workforce who gave up their time to energise the Commonwealth Games were given a fitting farewell.

Singer-songwriter Sarah Blasko belted out the classic Crowded House hit Don't Dream It's Over, as 200 volunteers took to the MCG representing the total 21,000. Actor Simon Burke gave a thank you speech to the volunteers, praising their contribution. About 5500 of those 21,000 were lucky enough to have their 15 minutes of fame by dancing, twirling and singing around the grand stage.




Goodbye, possums:
A thousand Dame Ednas formed part of the closing ceremony
as the Commonwealth Games ended in style.
Picture: Craig Borrow


Savouring every moment

THOUSANDS of revellers flooded into the city yesterday for a last chance to experience Commonwealth Games fever. Many made last-minute decisions to buy tickets to the closing ceremony for the experience.
Others rolled up to watch the MCG action on big screens at Federation Square and other sites.

The fish sculptures in the Yarra were still a popular attraction. Riverside revellers were treated to a final sound and light show from the 72 giant fish at 8pm. Singer Paul Kelly kicked off the night at Alexandra Gardens, getting thousands of people into the groove. Crowds swayed to the music while families staked out prime spots on the banks of the Yarra for the fish and fireworks.

"The fish have been brilliant", said Natalie Gatenby, 35, of Camberwell, as her two-year-old son Oliver stood spellbound. "He loves the fish. He's just seen them now but he won't leave," Ms Gatenby said. "You don't see two-year-olds stand still like that."

Ric Milner, 52, of Highton, Geelong, bought tickets to the closing ceremony for his family on Friday after listening to his friends share their excitement at attending Games events. "I felt like I'd missed out," Mr Milner said. "Melbourne just looks spectacular. It's a once in a couple of decades event."

In the spirit were families such as the Livingstons, who had packed their week with events. John Livingston, of Black Rock, brought his daughters April, 7, and Katie, 4, into the city for a last look at the fish, fireworks and other festivities. "Everyone seems to be having a great time," said Mr Livingston, who was born in England. "I've been speaking to my parents back home and they think Melbourne has looked great."

By 7pm spots were filling fast on the south bank of the Yarra with about 50,000 people ready for the show to begin. Patriotism was the point for Aaron Darnell, 25, of Berwick, who attended six games events with mates from Melbourne's outer southeast. Last night they were all decked out in green and gold and Aussie flags at Federation Square. "It's been great because we win everything," he said. "The patriotism has been great."

Mates Shannon Leonard, 16 and Luke Minchington, 15, both from Dromana, headed to the Yarra wrapped in Aussie flags and painted "Aussie Aussie Aussie" slogans on their faces and arms. "The Commonwealth Games have been great. Everyone seems to be getting along and everyone's really involved," said Shannon.

Friends Sarah Heath, 15, of Hampton, and Kelly Tobin, 15, of Black Rock, both cast members for the opening ceremony, joined the river festivities after cheering on the Aussie netballers. "The atmosphere's just been great," Sarah said.



Historic party like a dream

IF perfection is an impossible goal, Melbourne has gone as close to it as any community could in staging the greatest party this city has seen. The XVIIIth Commonwealth Games will go down not so much as a great festival of sport, but more as a superb celebration of human fellowship and the arts.
It has united the 71 Commonwealth nations and territories, enriching all involved -- competitor, artist, official, volunteer, spectator.

A few doom-merchants enjoyed prematurely deriding these games, and the Commonwealth in general, as second rate. They are the only losers. The vast majority of Melburnians, and the thousands of visitors they graciously hosted, loved an event the weather gods must have sensed was worth perfection.

Did Scotland's swimmers feel second- rate? Did Kerryn McCann's win feel second rate? Or did last-placed PNG runner Sapolai Yao feel second-rate when cheered to the line by 83,000 spectators?

You didn't have to love sport to enjoy it. A flying tram began the opening ceremony, which had a dreamlike beauty, as did last night's closing. The MCG's aura spread by finally embracing the Yarra's potential. The idea of water-spouting fish, risking claims of kitsch, instead turned out a masterstroke as up to 100,000 nightly visitors saw them change colour through the spray and an evocative musical score.

The Alexandra Gardens and Myer Music Bowl were focal points for topline performances from all continents -- music, theatre and dance all free. Andrew Bleby and his team put together the best array of quality, free family entertainment we have ever enjoyed.

A duty to others

The record haul of more than 200 medals to Australia, double the number of next nation England, gives us heart for our Olympic chances, particularly on the track. But pride in the deeds of Libby Lenton, Jana Pittman, John Steffensen, Kim Howe, the Hockeyroos and a host of stars should not mean boorish, gauche triumphalism. Rather, it points out the responsibility Australia has to a majority of poorer Commonwealth nations to use its expertise help improve people's lives through sport.

This was probably the Queen's sunset visit to Australia, but cynics who decry the Commonwealth as irrelevant are selfish. Its importance lies not in what rich nations such as Britain, Australia and Canada get out of our shared legacy, but what we do to assist smaller members democratically, economically, culturally. Melbourne has again shown visitors what an inspiration sport can be in uniting a community to achieve world's best in organisation, facilities -- and friendliness.

Security was effective, yet unobtrusive. Transport functioned as it always should. Ron Walker, Justin Madden and Andrew Walsh are among many deserving credit.

Citizens will enjoy the $484 million legacy of the new MCG, plus other improvements for the next half-century. But cleaning up after this $1.1 billion party leaves financial and political questions for the Bracks Government.

This was Victoria's 21st century success, which will rank with the 1888 International Exhibition and the 1956 friendly Olympics.

Final thanks go to all volunteers, without whom none of this was possible, deserving of applause with athletes in the city today.


It's not over yet

THE Games are over but it will be some time before Melbourne returns to normal. Some roads closed for the Games would not immediately reopen.
Brunton Avenue beside the MCG will be closed until April 3. Exclusive lanes on major roads for Games athletes and officials expired at midnight.

It will take weeks to "bump out" Games infrastructure such as temporary grandstands. The situation at the Melbourne Sports and Aquatic Centre is complicated by this week's Formula One Grand Prix.

Table tennis at the Albert Park centre will not be available until April 13. Squash, basketball, badminton and the indoor swimming pool will be out of bounds until April 11. The State Government said it would be at least a month before the new outdoor pool was opened to casual swimmers.

The State Netball Hockey Centre in Royal Park will not resume normal operations until the second week of April. The Parkville athletes village would close its doors on Wednesday but Oak St, which was incorporated into the village, could be closed until late April.

A baseball field and wetlands that also fall within village boundaries could be off limits going into May. Temporary accommodation huts on the site will be moved from May. It will take several months to fit out permanent houses and apartments on the estate, with residents due to move in from September.


Mathew Hayman

Ride of his life:
Mathew Hayman wins the cycling road race
Australia's final gold medal of the Games.
Picture: Craig Hughes

Sprint to the finish

AUSTRALIA finished its record-breaking Games on a high, with more medals being claimed in the final hours of competition.

On the last day of competition:

THE cycling team finished its campaign with double gold in a day of thrills and spills in the men's and women's road races.

THE Australian men's hockey team fought off an aggressive, at times spiteful, Pakistan to win Games gold 3-0.

AT the Multi-Purpose Venue, Australia's netballers collected silver behind favourite New Zealand, despite the urgings of almost 9000 screaming fans.

THE all-conquering Grinham sisters led Australia's squash team to two gold, a silver and two bronze.

DYNAMIC NSW teenager Kimberly Mason collected silver in the ball, her least favourite apparatus in rhythmic gymnastics.

Perhaps the happiest member of the Australian team yesterday was table tennis ace William Henzell, despite being beaten by Indian star Sharath Achanta in a thrilling gold medal match.

"It's the biggest thing I've ever won," he said after collecting his silver medal.

On the road cycling circuit along the Yarra and around the Botanic Gardens, Natalie Bates led from start to finish to claim the women's Games title ahead of teammate Oenone Wood.

And Mathew Hayman survived a four-hour war of attrition in the men's event, making a late break to win gold for Australia.

Teammate Allan Davis won bronze behind South African David George.

Olivia Gollan, blood running from her elbow after a crash in the women's race, was ecstatic at Bates' win.

"I'm so happy, my best mate just won a gold medal and it's the best moment I've had," she said.

All six Australian riders -- including Bates' sister Kate, who won cycling gold last week -- stood on the dais as Bates and Wood received their medals.

Hayman said his win belonged to the whole Australian team.

"We rode as a team and we won as a team but I get the privilege of standing on the podium."

Australia's netballers could not repeat their gold-winning success at the Manchester and Kuala Lumpur games, losing 60-55 to New Zealand.

Captain Sharelle McMahon said the team was disappointed, but she was proud of them.

"We put everything into it and that is all you can do," she said.

In squash, sisters Natalie and Rachael Grinham each grabbed their third medal of the Games in winning the women's doubles against NZ.

Natalie also combined with Joseph Kneipp to win gold in the mixed doubles, with Rachael and David Palmer taking the bronze.

In the men's doubles Aussies Stewart Boswell and Anthony Ricketts took silver against England, while teammates

Dan Jenson and David Palmer took bronze.

CANADIAN rhythmic gymnast Alexandra Orlando become the fourth athlete in history to win six Games gold medals.

Orlando joins Australian swimmers Ian Thorpe and Susie O'Neill, and Canadian swimmer Graham Smith, on the list of greatest Games winners.



 Final Medal Tally

    Gold Silver Bronze Total
1 Australia 84 69 68 221
2 England 36 40 34 110
3 Canada 26 29 31 86
4 India 22 17 11 50
5 Republic of South Africa 12 13 13 38
6 Scotland 11 7 11 29
7 Jamaica 10 4 8 22
8 Malaysia 7 12 10 29
9 New Zealand 6 12 13 31
10 Kenya 6 5 7 18
11 Singapore 5 6 7 18
12 Nigeria 4 6 7 17
13 Wales 3 5 11 19
14 Cyprus 3 1 2 6
15 Ghana 2 0 1 3
16 Uganda 2 0 1 3
17 Pakistan 1 3 1 5
18 The Gambia 1 1 0 2
19 Papua New Guinea 1 1 0 2
20 Isle Of Man 1 0 1 2
21 Tanzania 1 0 1 2
22 Namibia 1 0 1 2
23 Sri Lanka 1 0 0 1
24 Mauritius 0 3 0 3
25 Northern Ireland 0 2 0 2
26 Bahamas 0 2 0 2
27 Cameroon 0 1 2 3
28 Botswana 0 1 1 2
29 Malta 0 1 1 2
30 Nauru 0 1 1 2
31 Bangladesh 0 1 0 1
32 Lesotho 0 1 0 1
33 Grenada 0 1 0 1
34 Seychelles 0 0 2 2
35 Barbados 0 0 1 1
36 Samoa 0 0 1 1
37 Swaziland 0 0 1 1
38 Mozambique 0 0 1 1
39 Fiji 0 0 1 1
40 British Virgin Islands 0 0 1 1


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