First Games golds to Canada, Australia

MANCHESTER July 26. A Canadian teenager and an ex-Soviet veteran who now represents Australia captured the first gold medals at the Commonwealth Games on Thursday.

Alexandre Despatie, who turned 17 last month, won gold in the men's 1-meter springboard diving competition. The victory increased his medal haul at the Games after he sensationally snared the 10-meter platform title four years ago at age 13.

In the women's event 29-year-old Irina Lashko, who won Olympic silver medals with the Soviet Union and Russia before becoming a naturalised Australian last year, edged Canadian 20-year-old Blythe Hartley, the current world champion on the 1-meter board.

The diving competition was the first of 17 sports being held at the Manchester Games, which were later officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II.

In a masterful performance marred only by one botched dive that almost cost him the crown, Despatie finished 18 points ahead of surprise silver medallist Tony Ally of England.

Steven Barnett made a late surge to finish third for Australia.

Despatie astonished the crowd with a string of elegant liftoffs, tight somersaults, and soft entries.

Even so, he almost threw it all away at the Aquatics Centre in downtown Manchester.

His forward three-and-a-half somersault in his second dive of the six-dive final round went wrong when his legs rolled over on entry, bringing a groan from the crowd.

The judges awarded him 49.50 points while Ally, roared on by local fans, recorded 62.40 points and vaulted into the lead, which he held through the third dive.

``I got very, very scared,'' Despatie said. ``In the past, when it's gone badly, it's just kept on getting worse.''

But in a sign that he has gained in maturity, the Canadian kept his composure and shifted up a gear — even though Ally sustained the pressure with a spectacular final dive, which earned him 74.70 points.

Despatie's victory proved that his 1998 title in Kuala Lumpur, when he became the youngest gold medallist in the history of the Commonwealth Games, wasn't just a flash in the pan.

At last year's World Championship's in Japan he placed second on the 10-meter platform and 11th on the 3-meter board.

Lashko and Hartley were on course for a showdown in the women's event after scoring close results in the preliminary round and semifinal.

Lashko competed with a bandaged left foot after a training accident two days earlier.

``I was pretty sure it was going to be a good fight between me and Blythe,'' Lashko said. ``I was determined to fight whether I had a bad foot or not.''

Jane Smith got bronze for the resurgent England diving team.

The men and women contested more diving medals on Friday and Saturday in the 3-meter springboard and the 10-meter highboard events. — AP

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