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Commonwealth Games 2010: Home nations face Aussie test

Adlington 'needs' Commonwealth success - Pickering

Karen Pickering
By Karen Pickering
BBC 5 live commentator and winner of 13 Commonwealth medals

It might not be the Ashes, but the battle between the home nations and Australia will dominate the action in the pool in Delhi.

The Commonwealth Games have always been a really important event in swimming calendar, and everyone is here from the top countries.

Australia - who won 24 of the 54 swimming events in Melbourne at the last Games - are here in force so there will be no easy races.

This is a really important event for England's Becky Adlington, who has had a difficult last 18 months

Leisel Jones has seven Commonwealth gold medals to her name already - to go with her eight Olympic medals - and has the potential to pass the current record of 10.

With her Australian compatriot Stephanie Rice having pulled out to have shoulder surgery, Jones is the real star and the most experienced and best performer over the years for her country.

Incredibly, she could complete the sweep of wins in 50m, 100m and 200m breaststroke. I can't see anyone else doing it.

Leisel Jones
Leisel Jones won four Commonwealth golds in Melbourne in 2006

British Swimming - which oversees the elite from the home nations - has accepted the Commonwealths are more prestigious than the European Championships, in which GB won six gold medals in Budapest in August despite not prioritising them.

The Euros may have had more depth - so it will be easier to make finals here - but it will not be easier to win medals and beating Australia would provide a great confidence boost.

England's Fran Halsall - who was awesome at the Euros, winning five medals - will be aiming to become the fourth athlete to win six Commonwealth medals at a single Games and could compete in more events, depending on the relays.

This is a really important event for England's Becky Adlington , who has had a difficult last 18 months, struggling for form in the year after winning double Olympic gold then being up and down this season.

She has said a few times how much competing here means to her. Most people win a Commonwealth medal first but she has done things back-to-front, winning at the Olympics two years before her first appearance at these Games.

Jack Ward

Confidence-wise she needs to get a hard swim and win at least one medal in the freestyle events.

Since winning Olympic bronze, Jo Jackson has struggled with asthma and its after-effects. She struggled a bit in Budapest but I think the heat here will help and she looked better in British trials this summer, although she missed a big chunk of winter training.

With Jazmin Carlin of Wales and Scotland's Caitlan McClatchey the home nations have a good number of potential freestyle finalists.

The backstroke races will be exciting with Gemma Spofforth - world champion in her better event, the 100m - going head-to-head with Lizzie Simmonds, who is stronger over 200m.

Only person who can spoil that party is Australia's Emily Seebohm, who was best known as a backstroker previous but has become stronger in freestyle, is ranked number one in individual medley and is strong in the 50m butterfly too.

Scotland's Hannah Miley is four seconds faster than anyone else in the 400m medley, with Rice the only woman who could have challenged her.

Of the men from the home nations, world record-holder Liam Tancock of England is the best bet for gold in the 50m backstroke, although there is no margin for error in an event that short.

Because it is not an Olympic event, Liam concentrates on the 100m now and is reigning Commonwealth champion, but he is still more naturally a 50m swimmer.

Welshman Tom Haffield will be one to watch in the 400m medley, while Englishmen Chris Walker-Hebborn and James Goddard will battle it out in the 200m backstroke.

David Davies
Davies will lead the Welsh athletes into the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium

David Davies was the choice of the Wales team to carry their flag in Sunday's opening ceremony and I think his patriotism is one of the reasons he is here aiming to defend his 1500m freestyle after a difficult year in the pool.

He has been concentrating more on open-water events recently, while struggling in the pool, missing selection for the Europeans. He has moved back to Cardiff recently so maybe that has brought a bit more stability.

At the last Commonwealths, Australia's men's team were noticeably weaker than their women, failing to win a medal in an able-bodied category until the last day.

It was a stark reminder that the era of Ian Thorpe and Grant Hackett had come to an end.

They are stronger this time around, with Brenton Rickard a favourite in the breaststroke events and Commonwealth record-holder Eamon Sullivan back from surgery in sprint freestyle.

Geoff Huegill, owner of five Commonwealth golds in medley and butterfly, is back from a lengthy retirement. I heard he has lost 45kg to make his comeback - and a picture I saw of him from that time confirms it!

Canada are likely to have some success, with Brent Hayden challenging in the sprint freestyle and Ryan Cochrane in the distance free, while Annamay Pierse may push Leisel in the 200 breaststroke.

But I don't know if we'll see anyone like Papua New Guinea's Ryan Pini, who came from nowhere to win the 100m butterfly four years ago.

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see also
Commonwealth Games 2010: Form guide - swimming
29 Sep 10 |  Commonwealth Games
Swimmer Davies carries Wales flag
02 Oct 10 |  Commonwealth Games
Miley targets Scots Delhi success
18 Sep 10 |  Commonwealth Games
Wales name 'strongest' pool team
27 Aug 10 |  Commonwealth Games
Scots athletes geared for Games
18 Aug 10 |  Scotland

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