Lewis-Francis raises gold hopes with five-year best

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The Independent Online

There were huge gaps at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium last night as the track and field programme got underway at the XIX Commonwealth Games. So much, though, for the unfilled seats in the vast 60,000-seat arena – some 54,000 of them. On the track none of the athletes disappeared down a deep, dark hole.

Reports of the demise of the showpiece venue of the Delhi Games proved to be somewhat premature. The army or workmen who battled against the clock to repair the damage done by Sunday's opening ceremony had won their race to render it fit for the first athletics session, although to judge by the bumps on the long jump and triple jump runway they still have a little graft to do before those events get under way. "The track's fine," England's Mark Lewis-Francis, said after emerging victorious from the first race on the track and field programme. "I've got no complaints with it. It's the heat that's the problem."

The Birchfield Harrier, who anchored the British 4x100m relay team to victory in the Athens Olympics six years ago, did have one problem, it later transpired. His training shoes were stolen as he raced in his spikes, although they were subsequently recovered. Lewis-Francis departed from the arena with a cold towel cooling his neck. His form was pretty hot in the opening heat of the men's 100m. He won easing down in 10.15sec, his fastest time for five years and the fastest clocking in the first-round heats.

Oshane Bailey of Jamaica went 0.01sec quicker in the second round later in the day, when Lewis-Francis won his heat in 10.20sec. Still, the boy from the Black Country will have a chance of the gold if he manages a safe passage through the semis into the final today. "I'm going to give it everything and let's see if I can come home with a medal," the European Championship silver medallist said.

The real big hot shots of the Commonwealth sprint game are absent, of course. Usain Bolt was back in sporting action in Jamaica last weekend, leading his cricket XI to victory – and scoring 13 runs, including one six and a boundary – against a team captained by Chris Gayle in a 15/15 match. The Lightning Bolt has been back on the track this week, but simply to start his winter training in preparation for the 2011 season.

It is fair to say that the track and field competition in Delhi has been hit for six by the long list of high-profile absentees. There was nothing second-rate about the only final contested yesterday, the men's 5,000 metres, though. The last lap burn-up between Moses Kipsiro, the 2007 World Championship bronze medallist from Uganda, and Eliud Kipchoge, the 2003 world champion from Kenya, went right to the wire. Kipsiro prevailed by 0.07sec in 13min 31.25sec, with Kipchoge's Kenyan team-mate Mark Kiptoo taking bronze and England's Chris Thompson in fifth place.