The 1998 Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur, were declared open on this day (11 September) in the Malaysian capital, a Games of many firsts with the record participation smashed.
By David Tarbotton
On the sixteenth edition of the Games, Kuala Lumpur would become the first Asian hosts of the Games. Only in 1966 when Kingston Jamaica hosted the Games, had they been previously held outside of Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand or Canada. Kuala Lumper had won the right to host the Games over Adelaide 40 to 25 votes as four new countries (Cameroon, Kiribati, Tuvalu and Mozambique) debuted at the Games.
There was record participation, with the most ever nations (70), most officials (1432), most athletes (3633) and a record number of sports, 15, boosted by the first ever, except once in 1950, inclusion of team sports. Netball, Rugby sevens, hockey and cricket made their Commonwealth Games debuts. (Note water polo had been held in 1950).
The 100,000-seat Commonwealth Stadium, hosted the opening ceremony. The Queen’s message was delivered in the Queen’s Baton, which arrived in the main square of Kuala Lumpur on elephant-back at the start of the ceremonies, and was run in relay to the stadium.
As they had done four years previously, Australia dominated the medal tally signalling they were well prepared for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games. In Kuala Lumpur, they won 79 gold and a total of 198 medals, comparing well with their 1994 haul of 87 gold and 181 medals. Second to Australia in 1998 were England with 36 gold and a total of 136 medals.
Australia were very successful in the team sports winning three of the five gold medals. They dominated the men’s and women’s hockey tournaments and won a close women’s netball final. In the hockey gold medal matches, the Australian men defeated Malaysia 4-0, overcoming a surprise preliminary round loss to South Africa 3-2. In the women’s hockey competition, no country came with four goals of Australia in any match, eventually defeating England 8-1 in the final.
Captained by Vicky Wilson and supported by netball legends, Sharelle McMahon and Liz Ellis, no team came within 30 goals of Australia in the leadup to the final against arch rivals New Zealand. In the gold medal match, the Silver Ferns won the third quarter to bring the scores level at 31 each. New Zealand’s momentum continued into the fourth quarter leading 35-32. With seven minutes to go when Australia drew level at 36 all, and only in the last four minutes did they move ahead, eventually winning 42-39.
The Australian team in the rugby sevens was captained by one of the greats of the game, David Campese. After five very easy wins in the preliminary rounds, Australia lost to Fiji in the semi-final, before winning the bronze medal game against Samoa 33-12.
In the 50-over cricket tournament, Australia was defeated by South Africa by four wickets in the final. Australia was captained by the best batsmen in the series, Steve Waugh, who scored 90 and 100 not out in his best two trips to the crease.
In the stadium, pioneers of two new track and field events, Emma George and Debbie Sosimenko won the inaugural pole vault and hammer throw Commonwealth titles.
Two sports making their debut at the Games were ten pin bowling and squash. Two Australian women were the stars of each sport, Cara Honeychurch and Michelle Martin. Each won the singles, women’s pairs and mixed doubles.
In the pool, Ian Thorpe was an emerging star, winning two individual and two relay gold medals. Simon Cowley won the breaststroke double, while Susie O’Neill won six gold medals, three in individual events – 200m and 400m freestyle and 200m butterfly.
Cyclist Brad McGee defended his 4000m individual pursuit title and with the national team, defended in the 4000m team pursuit event. Andrei Kravtsov won three individual artistic gymnastics disciplines and the all-round title, to depart Kuala Lumpur with four gold medals. Perth’s Christine Trefry, duplicated her three-medal shooting haul from Victoria in 1994, winning the sport pistol individual gold and pairs with Annette Woodward. She joined Annemarie Forder to win the air pistol pairs.
In weightlifting, four Australian’s won gold medals with former Bulgarian, Kiril Kounev the star with three.