Athletics: Commonwealth Games 1994: Time for more tall tales of success: Mark Burton on the aspirations of smaller nations taking part in the Friendly Games

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The Independent Online
SMALL can be beautiful at the Friendly Games. The absence of the traditional powers, like the United States, and the division of Britain into its constituent parts, leaves the way open for the countries that are usually overwhelmed in Olympic competition to steal into the limelight.

In Auckland four years ago, Australia topped the medals table followed by England, Canada and New Zealand but in all, 29 countries had something to show for their efforts and 21 were carried home on the golden glow of success. Where else could competitors from Bangladesh, Cyprus, Jersey, Guernsey and even Nauru become champions?

Many of those unlikely successes are the stuff of fairy-tales, few more fanciful than the triumph of Marcus Stephen. Then aged 19, Stephen trained with Australian weightlifters while enjoying a scholarship to boarding school in Melbourne and travelled to New Zealand to represent his phosphate-rich, island home of only eight square miles. About 100 Nauruans from a population of less than 8,500 enjoyed the moment as Stephen took the gold medal for the snatch in the 60kg class on the 22nd anniversary of the island's independence.

But for some athletes even getting to the Games in a fit state to compete can be a triumph in itself. The weightlifter Jerry Wallwork was training in the hope of emulating his father, who won a silver medal for Western Samoa 20 years ago, and his chances were rated as excellent by the Western Samoa Amateur Sports Federation. But his progress was interrupted. The Supreme Court in Apia this week upheld a neighbour's complaint that his training, involving heavy weights dropping on a platform, was too noisy.

It is from among the shooters that this year's unlikely champions could come. Bangladesh collected its only gold in the air pistol pairs in Auckland.

Jersey and Guernsey each have shooting champions defending titles. Last time, Guernsey's proudest moment came when Adrian Breton won the island's first gold medal, in the rapid-fire pistol shooting, but Jersey put one over on them by becoming the first Channel Island to win gold when Colin Mallett won the full- bore rifle event a day earlier.

The Falklands are represented for the fourth time, their team consisting of three shooters and a marathon runner. Perhaps one of them will be on a podium receiving a medal. Perhaps not. Either way it is almost certain that at least one tale of unlikely triumph will emerge from the Games.

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