Commonwealth Games

Star power lacking in Delhi

2010-10-02 07:31
Caster Semenya (AFP)

New Delhi - The Commonwealth Games athletics programme has been seriously diminished by the no-show of many top names, leaving lesser lights to battle it out for the 52 gold medals on offer.

The list of withdrawls has steadily grown as the Sunday opening ceremony approaches, with South AFrica's scandal-hit world 800m champion Caster Semenya the most recent casualty.

She joins high-profile pull-outs such as Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell.

Bolt shut down his season early to prevent an injury after tightness in his lower back, dealing a major blow to organisers.

The Jamaican, who won the 100m and 200m gold medals in world record times at the Beijing Olympics, said he prefers to focus instead on next year's world championships in South Korea and the London Olympics in 2012.

His compatriot and arch-rival Powell will also be missing, opting not to defend the 100m title he won four years ago in Melbourne, citing the timing of the event late in the season.

Other drawcards out include England's marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe, who gave birth to her second child last month, and world and European heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis.

English Olympic 400m gold medallist Christine Ohuruogu, world triple jump champion Phillips Idowu and Australia's world discus champion Dani Samuels all opted out amid health and security fears.

Kenya's David Rudisha, who broke the world 13-year-old 800m mark in Berlin in August, and smashed it for a second time a week later, is also skipping the event, citing fatigue.

"I believe I need time to rest and focus on next year," said the 21-year-old.

He is joined on the sidelines by Kenya's Olympic men's 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop and women's world 10,000m champion Linet Masai.

In their absence, the country will look to Olympic and world 3,000m steeplechase champion Brimin Kipruto and Olympic women's 1500m champion Nancy Jebet Lagat to earn them gold.

"Delhi will be a glimpse of what to expect in London in 2012. You must keep the momentum because Kenya is on a roll," Kenyan Sports Minister Paul Otuoma told the athletes.

Semenya was expected to take part but dealt another devastating blow to the event by opting out due to a back injury.

"Semenya confirmed that she had been suffering serious lower back pain and had not been comfortable during her last few races," said a statement by the South Africa Olympic Committee (SASCOC).

It was supposed to be the first major international event for the 19-year-old since being cleared to compete an inquiry into her gender that saw her sidelined for almost 11 months.

South Africa will now be looking to Commonwealth champions Elizna Naude (discus), Sunette Viljoen (javelin) and LJ van Zyl (400m hurdles), with Olympic long-jump silver medallist Khotso Mokoena being a no-show.

Australia, which won 16 gold, 12 silver and 13 bronze medals in track and field at Melbourne in 2006, has a 57-strong team, spearheaded by Commonwealth, Olympic and world pole vault champion Steve Hooker.

The Australian men's and women's 4x400m relay teams will also defend their titles while Tamsyn Lewis (4x400m relay) has been picked for her fifth Commonwealth squad.

But Australia has also been hit by athletes not attending, including reigning Commonwealth discus champion Scott Martin (chest injury) and 400-metre champion John Steffensen (dispute with Athletics Australia).

England have an experienced squad in Delhi including newly-crowned European 110m hurdles champion Andy Turner.

Hosts India are fielding 90 athletes, its biggest Commonwealth Games squad, but few are expected to medal, with men's discus thrower Vikas Gowda and the women's discus trio of Krishna Poonia, Harwant Kaur and Seema Antil their best bet.


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