The collapse of the Communist systems in the Eastern bloc has created a generation of bewildered competitors, lost without the driving force of ideology and, more particularly, the facilities which that ideology offered them. As well as unquestioned financial support, those facilities also included, for some, the benefits of the latest performance-improving drug technology - administrators of the old East German regime have admitted that a systematic doping system was in place for over a decade until last year.
The return to the Olympic fold this year of 11 countries, including South Africa and Cuba, provides further reason to believe the gold, silver and bronze will be spread around - as indeed does the number of athletes who, for reasons of injury or selection, will not be contesting events which they had been expected to dominate.
The double world champion in the sprints, Katrin Krabbe, says she is too exhausted to compete following the hullabaloo which surrounded her recent successful appeal against suspension. Butch Reynolds, the 400m world record holder who used the US courts to win the right to contest the US trials even though he was serving a two-year ban for drug abuse, earned only a place as reserve in the relay squad, and the Americans have decided not to bring him following the International Olympic Committee's announcement that he would not be registered to compete.
Ben Johnson, banned for two years for drug abuse after the Seoul Games, is back to contest the 100 metres, but Carl Lewis, the man who inherited his gold medal, will not be there, or in the 200m, following his failure in the trials. In the 110m hurdles the world champion, Greg Foster, and world record holder, Roger Kingdom, also failed to come through the trials, as did Antonio Pettigrew, the world 400m champion, and Dan O'Brien, the world decathlon champion and subject of a massive pre-Olympic publicity campaign.
The Kenyan trials proved even more calamitous, but Paul Ereng, the Olympic 800m champion, Moses Tanui, the 10,000m world champion and Paul Bitok, the second-fastest man in the world at 5,000m this year, have all been reinstated. However, there is no place for John Ngugi, the Olympic 5,000m champion, Peter Rono, the Olympic 1500m champion, or Billy Konchellah, the world 800m champion.
Peter Elliott's absence through injury has left Gennaro di Napoli, of Italy, to lead the assault on the world 1500m champion, Noureddine Morceli, who has a hip injury. Another apparent favourite, Sergei Bubka, also looks vulnerable in the pole vault, because of Achilles tendon problems.
So does all this leave the British, with what the national director of coaching, Frank Dick, has described as by far their strongest team in history, with a clear chance of improving on the total of eight athletics medals - six silver and two bronze - which they gained at Seoul? Answer: no.
Colin Jackson, in the 110m hurdles appears to have the best chance of a gold, having beaten all his principal rivals, with the exception of Mark McKoy, of Canada, this season. He appears to be running into the best form of his life at the best possible time, having set a European record of 13.06sec at Crystal Palace on 10 July.
Linford Christie, like everyone else in the 100m field, will be relieved that Lewis, who ran a wind- assisted 9.98sec at Sestriere this week in beating the Olympic favourite, Leroy Burrell, will not be in a position to run 9.80 in Barcelona, as he says he is capable of doing. Christie has been beaten by Burrell in their last 10 races over the distance, but his form this season has been very consistent - he has been beaten only once - and he has defeated Dennis Mitchell, winner of the US trials. With Lewis now concentrating on out- jumping the world champion, Mike Powell, in a competition which could bring about the first jump over nine metres, this is Christie's big chance to win and he knows it.
There are six other events where, on current form, Britain has realistic chances of a medal. In the javelin, Steve Backley's pre-eminence has been strongly challenged by Jan Zelezny, the Czech who surpassed his world record earlier this month with a new-style javelin. Even without that particular javelin, which is not eligible to be used in Barcelona, Zelezny is capable of reaching 90m, as he has proved.
At 10,000m Liz McColgan, who at the start of the season appeared a win-double with Backley, has been mentally and physically drained in losing a number of races at shorter distances, while Elana Meyer, of South Africa, has looked more impressive. However, McColgan is very tough and very experienced, but so is Olga Bondarenko, of the Unified Team.
In the 3,000m, Yvonne Murray has something to prove after her failure in the World Championships and, following winter training in South Africa, she appears to be in the right form to do it. That assumes she is over the slight calf injury which prevented her running in the last domestic meeting before the Games.
Sally Gunnell is running well at 400m hurdles, but still looks off the pace set by Sandra Farmer- Patrick, of the United States. Tony Jarrett is not up with Jackson in the high hurdles but his bronze medal in the World Championships indicates he could fare well. And the 400m relay squad, unlikely to defeat the US again now that Michael Johnson, cast iron favourite for the 200m, seems likely to help their cause, could nevertheless come close.
Those floating just off medal positions are likely to include Roger Black, who has found the Americans formidable at 400m this year, Kriss Akabusi, who would do well to match his bronze placing in the World Championships now that the world champion, Samuel Matete, is being strongly challenged by Americans Kevin Young and Dave Patrick, and Tom McKean in the 800m.
Those Brits who might surprise include Jonathan Edwards, who has done a 17.26m triple jump this season, 3,000m steeplechaser Tom Hanlon and 5,000m runner Rob Denmark. The latter pair have been getting closer and closer to the Kenyans who are likely to dominate their events.
BRITISH ATHLETICS TEAM
MEN: 100m: L Christie (Thames Valley), J Livingston (Shaftesbury), M Adam (Belgrave). 200m: Christie, Adam, J Regis (Belgrave). 400m: R Black (Team Solent), D Redmond (Birchfield), D Grindley (Wigan). 800m: C Robb (Liverpool H), S Heard (Wolverhampton), T McKean (Bellshill). 1500m: K McKay (Sale), M Yates (Newham), S Crabb (Enfield). 5,000m: I Hamer (Swansea), J Buckner (Charnwood), R Denmark (Basildon). 10,000m: R Nerurkar (Bingley), E Martin (Basildon), P Evans (Belgrave). 110m hurdles: C Jackson (Brecon), T Jarrett (Haringey), H Teape (Enfield). 400m hurdles: K Akabusi (Team Solent), M Robertson (Belgrave). 3,000m steeplechase: T Hanlon (RC Edinburgh), T Buckner (Havant), C Walker (Gateshead). 4x100m relay (from): Christie, Livingston, Jarrett, Adam, J John (Newham), D Braithwaite (Haringey). 4x400m relay (from): Akabusi, Regis, Redmond, Black, Grindley, D Ladejo (Belgrave), M Richardson (Windsor). Marathon: P Davies-Hale (Cannock), S Brace (Bridgend), D Long (Massey Ferguson). 20km walk: A Penn (Coventry), M Rush (Loughborough). 50km walk: L Morton (Sheffield), P Blagg (Cambridge H), C Maddocks (Plymouth). High jump: D Grant (Haringey), S Smith (Liverpool H), B Riley (Corby). Long jump: M Forsythe (Haringey). Triple jump: J Edwards (Gateshead), F Agyepong (Shaftesbury), J Golley (Thames Valley). Pole vault: M Edwards (Belgrave). Shot: P Edwards (Belgrave). Hammer: P Head (Newham). Javelin: S Backley (Cambridge H), M Hill (Leeds), N Bevan (Belgrave). Decathlon: D Bigham (Woodford Green).
WOMEN: 100m: Stephanie Douglas (Milton Keynes). 200m: S Jacobs (Reading), J Stoute (Essex). 400m: P Smith (Wigan), L Hanson (Birchfield), Sandra Douglas (Trafford). 800m: D Edwards (Sale), P Fryer (Sale), L Baker (Coventry). 1500m: K Wade (Blaydon), A Williams (Sale), M Newman (Leicester). 3,000m: Y Murray (Edinburgh AC), L York (Leicester), A Wyeth (Parkside). 10,000m: L McColgan (Dundee), J Hunter (Valli), A Wallace (Torbay). 100m hurdles: K Morley-Brown (Cardiff), L-A Skeete (Trafford), J Agyepong (Shaftesbury). 400m hurdles: S Gunnell (Essex), G Retchakan (Thurrock), L Fraser (Trafford). 4x400m relay (from): Smith, Hanson, Sandra Douglas, Stoute, Gunnell, Fraser. Marathon: S Ellis (Birchfield), S Eastall (Ipswich), V Marot (Leeds). 10km walk: B Sworowski (Sheffield), V Lupton (Sheffield), L Langford (Wolverhampton). High jump: D Marti (Bromley), J Jennings (West Suffolk). Long jump: F May (Derby), Y Idowu (Oxford), J Wise (Coventry). Shot: M Augee (Bromley). Discus: J McKernan (Lisburn). Javelin: T Sanderson (Hounslow). Heptathlon: C Court (Birchfield).
RESERVES: Men: 100m: Regis; 200m: Braithwaite; 400m: Ladejo; 800m: D Sharpe (Jarrow); 5,000m: J Mayock (Barnsley); 110m hurdles: D Nelson (Wolverhampton); High jump: G Parsons (Blue Circle); Triple jump: J Herbert (Haringey); Discus: S Williams (Enfield); Javelin: R Bradstock (Enfield); Marathon: S Jones (Newport). Women: 1500m: C Cahill (Gateshead); 400m hurdles: J Parker (Essex); Marathon: M Sutton (Plymouth).Reuse content