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Teenager Rice spares Aussie blushes

Written by: Staff

MELBOURNE, Mar 16 (Reuters) Teenager Stephanie Rice spared Australia's blushes with a surprise victory in the women's 200 individual medley on the first day of the Commonwealth Games swimming competition.

The 17-year-old led an Australian sweep of the medals but that could barely mask a disappointing start to the Games for the Commonwealth's dominant swimming power.

Of the four other gold medals on offer on the opening day, two went to Scotland, one went to New Zealand and the men's 4x100 freestyle relay was won by South Africa.

Rice could not hide her joy after edging out pre-race favourite Brooke Hanson and Lara Carroll in a pulsating three-way tussle to mark her first international in a Games record time.

''I'm so happy with how I went,'' Rice told reporters. ''I was hoping to get in front but I had no idea if I'd won until I looked at the scoreboard.'' The opening day had begun badly for the hosts when Libby Lenton's quest for a record seven gold medals was shattered by Scotland's Caitlin McClatchey.

Lenton's drive for seven golds had attracted increased attention in Australia after multiple Olympic and world champions Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett pulled out of the Games.

David Carry took advantage to win the men's 400 metres and give Scotland a second gold medal.

There was more gloom to follow when New Zealand's Moss Burmester beat Travis Nederpelt to win gold in the men's 200 metres butterfly, while the 4x100 freestyle relay team finished runners-up behind a brash South Africa.

Australian swimmers won 27 of the 40 gold medals at the Manchester Commonwealth Games four years ago but appeared to have lost their aura of invincibility today.

Australia's head coach Alan Thompson said that several of the races could have swung in their favour with luck on their side.

''I think in a couple of races tonight, the opposition stole the races, like Burmester,'' said Thompson. ''He got out there and was tough and hung on.

''I think she (McClatchey) was much the same. If you are prepared to lead the race and prepared to hang on, you can do that.'' REUTERS PDS RN1848

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