Jamaica could have had the fastest man in history in their sprint squad at the Commonwealth Games next month. Instead, they will have someone by the name of Slowly.
Usain Bolt announced in June that he would not be representing his country on the Commonwealth stage in Delhi but neither will the other five speed merchants who, together with the Lightning Bolt, make up the top six places in the Commonwealth 100m rankings. Like Bolt, Nesta Carter, Asafa Powell, Yohan Blake, Mario Forsythe and Michael Frater have all run under 10 seconds this summer. In their stead in Delhi, Jamaica will be represented by Lerone Clarke, who has run 10.10sec this year, Oshane Bailey, who has clocked 10.11sec, and Rasheed Dwyer, whose season's best is a decidedly modest 10.29sec.
In the 200m, the Jamaican selectors have chosen Steve Slowly, who would appear to be living up to his name this year. The 30-year-old is not one of the 19 Jamaicans who feature in the world's top 175 in 2010.
All of which offers an opportunity to the British speed merchants gearing up for the Games. Some of them were on the banks of the Tyne yesterday, racing for England against Australia in the Bupa Great City Games, the street event that has been dubbed the Athletics Ashes. None looked in such fine fettle as Mark Lewis-Francis, who won the 100m from another double-barrelled sprinter, young Aussie Aaron Rouge- Serret, in a wind-assisted 10.12sec.
Having finished third in the Continental Cup in Split a fortnight ago, in a legal season's best 10.18sec, Lewis-Francis has maintained the form that took him to a surprise silver medal behind the Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre at the European Championships in Barcelona in July. "I'm staying in shape and I'm very consistent," the Birchfield Harrier said. "We'll see what surprises I can pull out of the bag over in Delhi."
Lewis-Francis' victory yesterday contributed to a 5-4 team triumph that was clinched in the final event by the England captain Andy Turner, who prevailed in 13.40sec. There were also wins for Marlon Devonish in the 150m (14.88sec), Hannah England in the mile (4min 38sec) and Luke Cutts in the pole vault (5.20m).
Two of Australia's victories came courtesy of Sally Pearson, who won the 100m hurdles in 12.85sec and the 150m in16.86sec. The Sydneysider enjoyed support on Tyneside from the English branch of her family. "All of my mum's side are from Kent," she said. "Mum was born here but moved to Australia ages ago."
Might the Beijing Olympic 100m hurdles silver medallist consider representing her mother's homeland? "No," Pearson replied. "I was born in Australia. Mum's lived most her life in Australia, too. I'm staying put."
It was worth a shot – another world class 100m hurdler with a British mother, Tiffany Ofili, has switched allegiance. A bronze medal winner for the US at the 2006 World Junior Championships, the 22-year-old was born and bred in Michigan. "I am ecstatic to represent Great Britain in athletics henceforth," Ofili said, adopting a suitably Dickensian tone.
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