Athletics: Commonwealth Games 1994: English on their mettle

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AUSTRALIA'S swimmers are big fishes in the Commonwealth pond who say they will take every gold medal at the Saanich pool, writes Duncan Mackay.

The Australians' cockiness will act like a red rag to a bull for the English swimmers. Karen Pickering, Mark Foster and Nick Gillingham won world short-course titles last December, while Sarah Hardcastle and Martin Harris are both world-class performers.

Gillingham already has a special incentive for wanting to do well. In Auckland four years ago, he was the world record holder for the 200 metres breaststroke but left with only two bronze medals.

He has the confidence of knowing he beat his main rival, Phil Rogers of Australia, in Palma, Majorca, when he won the world title. 'The Commonwealth Games are definitely more important to me than anything else I've ever done. I want to win the title for the first time,' Gillingham said.

Foster, from Barnet Copthall, is a renowned fast starter which could be the difference between 100m gold and silver. Harris, meanwhile, set a national record of 55.73sec for the 100m backstroke two weeks ago and is a second faster than anyone else in the Commonwealth. He could be the first Englishman since 1962 to lift the title.

The five top-rank swimmers in the women's 200m freestyle are Australians. But Pickering, from Ipswich, beat Susan O'Neill, the world No 1, in Palma and has been training specifically for this event.

Hardcastle, of Bracknell, walked away from swimming in 1986 after winning the 400m and 800m in Edinburgh, claiming she was disillusioned with the sport. She was lured back in 1992 and has been setting some impressive times. Hayley Lewis, of Australia, however, is defending both her titles won in 1990 and leads Hardcastle by eight seconds over 800m.

In the high-board diving, Robert Morgan will be hoping to retain his title as some compensation for last year's European Championships. The Welshman missed the gold medal by 0.03 points, the narrowest margin in the history of the sport.