Commonwealth Games: England's sprint hopes lifted by Collins' exit

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The Independent Online

England's prospects of earning the 100 metres sprint medal that eluded them four years ago in Manchester improved significantly yesterday when Kim Collins, who saw off the challenge of the sprinters Mark Lewis-Francis and Dwayne Chambers four years ago, withdrew from the 18th Commonwealth Games because of an injury.

Collins's absence only came to light during yesterday's opening ceremony when he was not among the parading competitors from St Kitts and Nevis.

Collins was an unheralded champion in Manchester four years ago in a final which saw Lewis-Francis suffer a pulled hamstring and Chambers - who has since been given a two-year ban for doping offences - hampered by cramp.

The presence here of Jamaica's world record holder, Asafa Powell, seeking his first major title, meant that the unassuming Collins was not regarded as being the favourite in the sprint event. But his record indicates that he would have been a strong medal contender.

Life therefore becomes a shade easier for Lewis-Francis, whose form has dipped since an impressive victory in Brisbane a couple of weeks ago, and Jason Gardener, who gave up the chance of defending his world indoor 60m title in Moscow last weekend in order to seek a first major outdoor medal in the individual event. Both will still have their work cut out to compete with Powell and his Jamaican colleague Michael Frater, not to mention the young Trinidadian who earned a bronze medal at the 2003 World Championships, Darrel Brown.

A few hours before the Queen had taken her seat at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, where the opening and closing ceremonies as well as the track and field programme are taking place, England were saying goodbye to a strong gold medal prospect as Beth Tweddle, expected to contest the overall gymnastics title with the home athlete Monette Russo, had to withdraw from the competition after injuring her right ankle during warm-up.

The 20-year-old Cheshire athlete was taken from the arena in a wheelchair after landing awkwardly from a vault and a scan revealed ligament damage which will prevent her from adding to the gold medal she won four years ago in Manchester on the asymmetric bars.

"As soon as I did it I knew there was something wrong," said Tweddle, who has also won two world bronze medals in her specialist discipline. "I knew as soon as I took off on the vault it didn't feel right on the board. As soon as the impact hit me my coach pulled me to one side to have a medical examination.

"This is a big disappointment. I have been looking forward to competing here and I've been working hard towards this for six months. As the captain I will be staying to cheer the others on and keep their spirits high. I will leave my disappointment behind and concentrate on supporting them."

The 12-year-old aiming to put Vanuatu on the map

There is a new face at the 18th Commonwealth Games. You will see it at one end of a table tennis table, but only just, as Yoshua Shing, a 12-year-old prodigy from the South Pacific island Vanuatu, is only 4ft 11in tall.

Shing's achievement in being selected for these Games appears even greater for the fact that there are only four table tennis tables in the whole of Vanuatu, a tiny island nation of about 206,000 people lying halfway between Hawaii and Australia. But already the youngest competitor here has managed to reach a level of attainment that has earned him appearances in the World Cadet Championships and made him a celebrity back home.

Shing was invited to China by a wealthy businessman to hone his skill and prepare for the games. "I can't believe there are so many good players there," he said. "I need to practise more if I want to be good."

And he has already discovered one of the delights of the Athletes' Village... he loves the beef sausages.

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