GLASGOW, Scotland – An Australian medal-winning weightlifter was convicted Thursday of head-butting another Commonwealth Games competitor in the athletes’ village and Australia’s athletics coach was sent home for criticizing his top star — just as the country’s 20-year domination of the competition appeared to be coming to an end.
Australia has topped the medals standings at every Commonwealth Games since 1990 but slipped to second place behind England on Wednesday, trailing 44-36 in the gold medal count. With the games ending on Sunday, Australia looked unlikely to regain the lead because swimming, where the team won 19 of the total 44 golds, has been completed.
The Australian spotlight shifted from the venues to Glasgow Sheriff Court, where weightlifter Francois Etoundi pleaded guilty to assaulting Welsh counterpart Gareth Evans early Wednesday in the village dining room, breaking his nose.
The Cameroon-born Etoundi, who won the bronze medal in the 77-kilogram (170-pound) division on Sunday, was ordered to pay 400 pounds ($675) compensation to Evans. The incident occurred after a verbal exchange relating to the girlfriend of Evans, who finished fifth in the 62-kilogram (137-pound) division.
“Your behaviour not least undermines the concept of the friendly games which we are so proud to have here in Glasgow,” Sheriff Andrew Cubie told Etoundi. “Many people don’t have the skills or opportunities or support network that you have, and yet you have chosen to bring the law of the playground into Commonwealth Games village … falling out with someone over a girl.”
Etoundi could face sporting sanctions back in Australia, where he will be returning imminently.
“He is bitterly, bitterly disappointed with things,” said Etoundi’s lawyer, David Hunter. “The gloss of winning the medal has been removed.”
Commonwealth Games Federation chief executive Mike Hooper said Etoundi had already been stripped of his games accreditation.
“I made it clear I didn’t want him back in the village when violent behaviour is asserted,” Hooper said. “The games have to be safe and secure.”
On a tumultuous day for Australia, officials also had to deal with strife within the athletics team. Head coach Eric Hollingsworth was ordered to return home as punishment for releasing an unauthorized statement criticizing Olympic hurdles champion Sally Pearson for not attending their pre-Glasgow training camp.
“He breached the team agreement set by the Australian Commonwealth Games Federation and that is like our bible to us,” Australia chef de mission Steve Moneghetti said.
Pearson, who won gold in the 100-meter hurdles at the 2012 London Olympics and the 2011 world championships, opened the defence of her Commonwealth title on Thursday by qualifying fastest for Friday’s final.
“It’s been very tough, it’s been very distracting,” Pearson said. “But I’ve sort of forced myself not to go there, and I’ve put myself into this head space that I know is positive.”
Hollingsworth cut Pearson’s funding for her games preparations after she opted not to attend the team training camp in England, saying “her no-show sets a bad example to the entire national team.”
But Pearson said she has yet to encounter any criticism within the team, and cut herself off from social networking sites.
“Everyone’s really supportive,” she said. “It’s an individual sport. Yes, I’m the team captain and would have been good to have been at the camp. But I wasn’t, and I did what was right for me.”
Australia’s turmoil at the games comes two years after a demoralizing London Olympics when the team endured its worst medal haul since the 1992 Barcelona Games.
An Australian rower was sent home from the 2012 Olympics after damaging two stores outside London.
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