Commonwealth Games: Golden future awaits Ladejo: The British heroes of Helsinki are primed to see double in Victoria. Norman Fox reports

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THE BIG money from this athletics season is already in the bank accounts of the big names. The big titles are in their

sponsor-decorated bags. So what's left for the Commonwealth Games athletics programme which starts tomorrow? Britain's world and European champions Linford Christie, Colin Jackson and Sally Gunnell are all saying this is something worth winning, but when they go to the blocks, will the incentive be there?

The sheer intensity of this season must eventually eat into the strength and determination of even such highly remunerated patriots as the English team captains Gunnell and Christie. After their victories in the European Championships in Helsinki, they, and many others, talked of coming here as a reward for turning out for Britain throughout the season. A snipe at those who have not?

England's team here is strong enough to do well in an athletics competition that is of patchy quality. The major absentee is Roger Black, who said his glandular fever had taken too much out of him to contemplate another championship. But with his conqueror in Helsinki, Du'aine Ladejo, running the 400 metres, the loss is mitigated. Ladejo is the ascending star and while everyone expects Christie, Gunnell, Jackson and Steve Backley to secure the double of European and Commonwealth gold, the probability that Ladejo will join this elite group adds greatly to a programme that in other respects endorses some critics' view that the Games has become a

second-class competition.

After swamping the Americans in the floods of Zurich last Wednesday, and winning again in Brussels on Friday with his fastest time of the year, Christie is indisputably the one Commonwealth athlete who could help sell the slow-moving tickets here. He seems to be in another of his angry moods, with the press again taking the full force of his anger for the various things that went on in Helsinki, where he says he nearly quit. No way. He may save his sharpest edge for the Americans, but he reckons Frankie Fredericks, of the Commonwealth newcomers Namibia, is the one he most wants to beat. In fact, it could well be two Nigerians, Olapade Adeniken and Daniel Effiong, who give him more trouble, since both have recorded faster times than the Olympic champion this season.

It would have been interesting to see Fredericks race against John Regis but an Achilles injury has frustrated Regis over the past fortnight, forcing him out of the European championships.

Africa provides the most formidable depth of talent in the world today, which encourages Kenya to look towards the Olympics and world championships rather than the dear old Commonwealth Games. Their authorities decided, not for the first time, that anyone who failed to turn up for their trials would not be considered, and in any case they have a policy of giving Commonwealth Games places to their young hopefuls.

So there is no William Sigei, the new holder of the world 10,000 metres record, Moses Kiptanui, the world steeplechase champion, nor the world champions over 800 metres and 5,000 respectively, Paul Ruto and Ismael Kirui. Instead, Kenya have sent a batch of young athletes almost all of whom have medal-winning potential. Perhaps that policy is the future of these Games that used to be more 'friendly' than they are today. After all, it was in these championships four years ago that Sally Gunnell and Colin Jackson first learnt the art of surviving a championship programme that tests endurance over several days.

From 400 metres upwards in the men's events, Kenya's remarkable reserves will probably prove that for a long time in the future that country will provide a conveyor belt of talent. The question is whether South Africa, now returned to the Games, can start to put forward potential medal winners from a country rich in natural talent.

Perhaps only two South Africans will take the rostrum this time. Ezekiel Sepeng finished fifth in the world championships 800 metres last year and Okkert Britz is by some margin this year's Commonwealth best in the pole vault. If Patrick Konchellah (800m), Philip Mosima (1500m) and more or less whoever they choose in the 5,000m and 10,000m emphasise that Kenyans rather than Britons are now all-powerful in the middle and long distances, there is every chance that the marathon will also come their way. Steve Moneghetti, the Australian who has won a silver and bronze in the previous two Games but is now 31, will probably be broken by the Kenyan Jackson Kipngok. At least in the field events there should be medals for the European high jump runner-up Steve Smith, Jonathan Edwards in the triple jump, Backley, European javelin champion, and Paul Edwards, who leads the Commonwealth shot rankings.

British women ought to come away from here with seven medals of various hues. After her surprising and much celebrated bronze in Helsinki, Phylis Smith can do just as well in the 400 metres, while Diane Modahl (800m), Kelly Holmes (1500m), Yvonne Murray (at last without Sonia O'Sullivan to frustrate her in the 10,000m), Gunnell, and the enduring Judy Oakes (shot) are all likely to keep the metal detector buzzing at the airport next week.

Christie profile, News page 17

(Photograph omitted)