Athletics: Commonwealth Games 1994: Nigerians threaten Christie stranglehold: Duncan Mackay on the wealth of talent common among the track and field aspirants

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The Independent Online
THE AIRLINE timetables have come under closer scrutiny than the ranking lists for British athletes this year. Most of the team who competed in the European Championships last week have hotfooted it directly from Helsinki to Victoria in the hope they can outrun the jet lag and 10-hour time difference. But Linford Christie and Colin Jackson are among a handful cutting it fine, leaving their arrival until the last minute so they can exploit their earning potential on the European circuit.

Britain's athletes have a lot to live up to. In Auckland four years ago, competing in the vests of their home countries, they won 13 gold medals, 16 silvers and 16 bronzes. For some, like Jackson and Sally Gunnell in the 400 metres hurdles, it was their first major individual title and led to greater things. For others, most notably the 1500m winner, Peter Elliott, it did not.

South Africa will offer a welcome challenge to the big three of England, Australia and Canada. But there are still 16 individual events in which British athletes have an outstanding chance of winning: 100m (Christie), 200m (John Regis), 400m (Du'aine Ladejo), 5000m (Rob Denmark), 110m hurdles (Jackson), 400m hurdles (Gary Cadogan or Peter Crampton), high jump (Steve Smith or Dalton Grant), triple jump (Jonathan Edwards), shot put (Paul Edwards), javelin (Steve Backley), 400m (Phylis Smith), 800m (Diane Modahl), 1500m (Kelly Holmes), 10,000m (Yvonne Murray), 400m hurdles (Gunnell) and shot put (Judy Oakes).

Christie faces a far stiffer task retaining his 100m title in Victoria than he did in Helsinki. In Europe, a half-fit Christie is still better than a fit anyone else, but in the Commonwealth, it is a different matter.

The Nigerians have two dangerous characters in Olapade Adeniken and Daniel Effiong, both ahead of Christie on the clock this season having run 9.95 and 9.98sec respectively. They will be hoping the Englishman leaves his form somewhere over the Atlantic.

Frankie Fredericks, of Namibia, is another threat. But his best bet lies over 200m, the distance at which he won the world title last year. His race against Regis, the fastest man in the world this year, was to be the highlight of the track and field programme. But now Regis has an Achilles injury.

Definitely missing are the world record holders, Moses Kiptanui and William Sigei, along with several other Kenyans chasing the dollar in Europe. Whoever they send, though, are bound to be a threat from 400m upwards.

The South Africans bring to these championships not only Elana Meyer, whose clash with Murray over 25 laps is the most intriguing of the week, but two potential world-beaters.

Ezekiel Sepeng is young, gifted and black - the face of a new South Africa. The 20-year-old finished fifth in the 800m at last year's World Championships in Stuttgart and the manner in which he traded elbows with Tom McKean and fought his way past the Olympic champion, William Tanui, was not that of a starstruck rookie.

Okkert Britz, also 20, has polevaulted 5.85m this season, 30cm higher than his closest rival. He is one of the few athletes in the world able to grip the pole as high as Sergei Bubka and, with a few more years' experience, may succeed the great man as world record holder.

In Auckland, Jane Flemming was the female star of the Games, striking gold in the heptathlon and long jump. She will once again be one of the main attractions in Victoria, but not necessarily because of her athletic ability. She was the instigator behind the fundraising calendar which featured several female members of the Australian team naked. Even some British competitors have been staying awake long enough to have a peep.