From the publishers of THE HINDU

VOL.33 :: NO.40 :: Oct. 07, 2010

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COMMONWEALTH GAMES - ATHLETICS

The big names are missing

The fizz will be missing since some of the biggest names in world athletics have decided not to come, but these Games will still produce some of the best contests India has ever seen in athletics, writes K. P. Mohan.

AP

New Zealand's flag-bearer will be its Olympic and two-time world champion shot putter Valerie Vili.

October is not the month to hold international athletics. It is normally time for athletes to wind up a season rather than hit ‘peak'.

The Commonwealth Games have forced some of the top international athletes to re-jig their calendar in order to be able to compete in the quadrennial games. It is natural only that some others are either not interested in adjusting their schedules to accommodate the Games or else are concentrating on the World championships next year.

Not many world-beaters from the Commonwealth are coming; they want to rest their sore limbs and nurse the odd injury at the end of the season rather than plunge into top-level competition all over again.

Usain Bolt, the sensational Jamaican sprinter, who holds a clutch of world records, whom all of India was expecting to watch, is not coming. This has been a big blow for the Games and there were murmurs till he finally said ‘no' that money could sway his plans.

Eventually, Bolt, the Olympic and World champion and the fastest man on earth (100m-9.58s), was forced to skip part of the season itself because of a back injury. There was no re-think possible even though the Jamaican kept saying he would have loved to come to India.

The world record holder in the men's 800 metres, David Rudisha, is also not coming. The 21-year-old was named in the Kenyan squad but eventually said he would be better off taking a break after a tiring season rather than compete in Delhi.

Among those who had expressed their intentions of not making it quite early were Jamaicans Veronica Campbell-Brown (Olympic 200m champion), Shelly-Ann Fraser (Olympic 100m champion)) and World heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis of England. With just 11 days left, World women's discus champion Dani Samuels, World triple jump champion Phillips Idowu, Olympic women's 800m champion Christine Ohuruogu of England and World 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop of Kenya, also withdrew. Krishna Poonia must have been pleased to hear Samuels's pull-out.

A whole lot of other Jamaicans including former world sprint record holder Asafa Powell have also decided not to make it because of one reason or the other. Quite shockingly, Jamaica has not entered its top seven runners in the men's 100 metres; more shockingly the top 40 in the women's 100 metres!

For a country which swept everything in the sprints in both sections at the Melbourne Games, this was not the team that could have been expected, even after the pull-out of stars like Bolt, Powell and Fraser and Campbell.

Will then these championships be bereft of world-class competition that we keep talking of when we refer to athletics in the Commonwealth Games?

To a great extent that would be true. But this will not be pedestrian either. There is so much of world-class athletics talent in the Commonwealth that every contest, barring perhaps a few women's throwing events, should rise well above what the Indians have experienced so far.

England has entered a reasonably strong team from which European distance double champion Mo Farah was a late withdrawal.

The last-minute pull-out of world champion triple jumper Phillips Idowu because of security considerations was a huge setback for the Games. Despite Samuel's pull-out, Australia should be fairly formidable with Olympic and World champion pole vaulter Steve Hooker coming. With him will be World indoor long jump champion Fabrice Lapierre.

New Zealand's flag-bearer will be its Olympic and two-time world champion shot putter Valerie Vili.

Kenya is expected to field World steeplechase champion Ezekiel Kemboi, Olympic steeplechase champion Brimin Kipruto, Olympic women's 1500m gold-winner Nancy Langat, and World women's 5000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot.

One of the keenest track duels should come up in the women's 800 metres where Kenyan Janeth Jepkosgei, former world champion and Beijing Olympic silver medallist, will cross swords with South African Caster Semenya, the reigning World champion.

In a prelude to the Commonwealth Games contest, Jepkosgei beat Semenya in the Diamond League meeting in Brussels and then went onto win the Continental Cup in Split, Croatia.

The Split field included Kenia Sinclair, third in the season's list among Commonwealth athletes, with 1:58.16 to Jepkosgei's 1:57.84. The top position is occupied by Kenyan Nancy Langat (1:57.75), who will run the 1500 metres in Delhi.

Where does Tintu Luka fit into this company?

After having run a National record of 1:59.17 for her fifth place in the Continental Cup, P. T. Usha's trainee is in excellent shape to challenge the best in the world. Usha knows the tough field will test Luka's endurance and experience to the limits and thus she is guarded in her optimism.

Apart from Jepkosgei, Sinclair and Semenya, who was allowed to come back into competition after being involved in a bitter row over gender with the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), there will be two other Kenyan women, Cherono Koech, 17, who won the World junior silver in July this year and was the World Youth champion last year, and Winnie Chebet, 19, World junior silver medallist in 2006.

Also in contention could be Grenada's Neisha Bernard-Thomas, who finished behind Luka in Split.

The middle and long distance events are bound to be dominated by the Kenyans in both sections.

The jumps and throws will have a mix of athletes from England, the Caribbean countries, Australia, South Africa and Canada sharing the spoils.

Men's long jump is likely to see Australian Fabrice Lapierre and Senegal's Ndiss Kaba Badji fight it out for the title, while in the absence of Idowu's the triple jump could be dominated by Leevan Sands of the Bahamas, Randy Lewis of Grenada and Tosin Oke of Nigeria. Indian National record holder Renjith Maheswary could have a chance for a minor medal.

Men's shot put, in which India has medal ambitions through Om Prakash Singh, could turn out to be a three-way battle among Canadian Dyaln Armstrong (season best 21.58m), Jamaican Dorian Scott (20.55m) and Aussie Scott Martin (20.10m).

Om Prakash Singh and Englishman Carl Myerscough have 19.99m in the season's lists.

Australian Benn Harradine's Area record of 66.45m in discus in the Continental Cup should make him the odds-on-favourite against Indian Vikas Gowda, who, after a promising start to the season, has slumped.

Among women, Nigerian long jumper Blessing Okagbade, Olympic bronze medal winner, former World champion Trecia Smith of Jamaica, in triple jump, could be strong contenders.

The fizz will be missing since some of the biggest names in world athletics have decided not to come, but these Games will still produce some of the best contests India has ever seen in athletics.



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