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Commonwealth Games 2010: Time for new athletics heroes

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Steve Cram gives Sonali Shah the lowdown on athletics in Delhi

By Phil Jones
BBC athletics reporter in Delhi

Athletics is the main vehicle of any major Games. Usually it is a juggernaut powered by the incredible Usain Bolt and fuelled in Britain by the dynamism of Phillips Idowu and grace of Jessica Ennis.

But timing is everything and in Delhi is seriously lacking in that department. October in India was never on Bolt's itinerary and his fellow Jamaican show-stoppers are equally conspicuous by their absence.

When Bolt's training partner, Daniel Bailey of Antigua, failed to turn up, the Commonwealth Games was officially shorn of the 10 fastest men in the Commonwealth.

October is when Ennis begins the hard winter work for next season's defence of her world title. Double European champion Mo Farah and world and European medallist Jenny Meadows have eyes only on next year as well.

Should the stadium erupt as an Indian athlete battles into contention in one of these weaker events, will the rousing cheers not bring goose bumps all the same?

Ditto for Kenya's new 800m world record-holder David Rushida and British Barcelona medallists Michael Rimmer, Martyn Rooney and Michael Bingham. Injury accounted for English quartet Christine Ohuruogu, Lisa Dobriskey, Jo Pavey and Goldie Sayers.

Timing of the news of security and health concerns, plus reports of filthy athletes' quarters turned Idowu from a seemingly certain defender of his triple jump crown to a no-show.

And the same went for Australia's world champion discus-thrower Dani Samuels and Canada's world number one hurdler Priscilla Lopes-Schliep. Then came another shunt up the Delhi bumper.

South Africa's Caster Semenya, back from an enforced 11-month absence for gender testing and sure to be one of the stories of the Games, withdrew because of injury to put another significant dent in the athletics bodywork.

It would be easy then, after all these prangs, to quickly jump to the conclusion that the Commonwealth Games track-and-field (2010 model) is a write-off, ready for crushing and discarding.

But let me try to fill your glass at least half way up with a smattering of names and events that might suggest there's more than a little life yet in the old banger.

Dai Greene

GB duo claim 400m hurdles one-two

Welsh wonder Dai Greene - recent conqueror of world number one Bershawn Jackson - aims to add Commonwealth gold to his European title over 400m hurdles.

Olympic and world champion Steve Hooker is here to pole-vault Australia to gold.

New Zealand's Olympic, world and reigning Commonwealth champion Valerie Adams (nee Vili) goes for more glory in the shot; while her Kiwi compatriot Nick Willis, Olympic silver medallist and reigning champion over 1500m, is back from injury

And Nigeria's Olympic long jump bronze medallist Blessing Okagbare is set to make a four-pronged assault on the medals in the 100m, 200m, sprint relay and long jump. "They are hardly household names, though," retorted one colleague. But, outside of Bolt, who is?

Usain Bolt
A back injury brought Bolt's season to an ened in August

Also on the world-class list out here are the peerless Sally Pearson, of Australia, in the sprint hurdles, Kenyan duo Nancy Lagat and Vivian Cheruiyot - Olympic 1500m champion and 5000m world champion respectively - and 2007 world champion high jumper Donald Thomas, of the Bahamas.

European champion Andy Turner leads the English charge, confident of upgrading his Commonwealth bronze from Melbourne four years ago.

His team-mate Mark Lewis-Francis hopes to capitalise on the major absenteeism to build on his European silver in the 100m and a thirtysomething showdown between old pals Christian Malcolm of Wales and England's Marlon Devonish could develop in the 200m.

Scotland's medal ambitions rest with the seasoned Lee McConnell over 400m and Steph Twell in the 1500 and 5000m. Lagat and Cheruiyot are formidable obstacles to ultimate glory for Twell, but the developing young talent could chase down a podium place.

Chris Thompson, Chris Tomlinson and Martyn Bernard won European medals in Barcelona and will don English colours here - as will such talents as Andy Baddeley, Tom Lancashire, Kate Dennison, Greg Rutherford, Will Sharman, Steve Lewis and Hannah England.

And then there is English high jumper Tom Parsons. He has already finished eighth at the Olympics, 10th at the World Championships and 11th at the 2006 Commonwealth Games.

This year, he failed to register a height in the European Championships final amid torrential rain. But he is ready to make his mark, telling me ahead of the Delhi games that he has adjusted his run up and is jumping like never before.

Remember that, so often, the Commonwealth Games is a springboard to greater career heights - just as it was for Idowu. He won gold in Melbourne four years ago, his first major title, and found the golden belief to carry him to world and European crowns.

Greene targets Delhi podium

Before that, Dame Kelly Holmes, Denise Lewis, Daley Thompson and Ennis all made an impact at the Commonwealths before conquering the world.

There are some weak events on the track and field in Delhi. There is no papering over the cracks of the women's 3000m steeplechase, for example, where there is talk of few Kenyan entrants, and in fact precious few athlete submissions at all.

But there will be competitive events aplenty and Barcelona's European Championships showed that close races in slower times could be more captivating than time-trial processions.

Should the stadium erupt as an Indian athlete battles into contention in one of these weaker events, will the rousing cheers not bring goose bumps all the same?

One of the most memorable athletics events I have ever been involved in was the late Kerryn McCann's marathon triumph in Melbourne as she was welcomed into the MCG by a wall of patriotic Aussie sound.

It mattered not that she was more than 15 minutes outside Paula Radcliffe's world record and even outside her own Commonwealth record. It was all about the moment, the emotion. We might not get the most familiar of names in Delhi, but we should still get some drama.



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see also
Greene eyes 'tougher' Delhi games
02 Aug 10 |  Athletics
Delhi Dreams: Dai Greene
17 Aug 10 |  Athletics
Semenya pulls out of Delhi Games
28 Sep 10 |  Commonwealth Games
English trio out of Commonwealths
22 Sep 10 |  Commonwealth Games


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