For any major multi-discipline sporting event, athletics is often the showcase. With India hosting an event that could potentially draw big names from all over the world, there was tremendous expectation. Some of it has been killed by the news of big names deciding not to come to Delhi --- names like Usain Bolt, world champion triple-jumper Phillips Idowu, Olympic 400 metre champion Christine Ohuruogu, world discus champion Dani Samuels, 800-metre world record holder Kevin Rudhisha, Asafa Powell, the list goes on.
While it is unfortunate that these stars will not be seen in action during the October 3-14 event, there are two things that must be considered. For athletes who have already established themselves on the international circuit, the Commonwealth Games have never been a big draw. In the global athletics calendar, the event is hardly the most prestigious for world and Olympic champions. What it is though, is a great platform for new stars to be born. Dame Kelly Holmes, double Olympic and Commonwealth Games gold medalist, told HT on a trip to Delhi recently, "Athletes at the highest level plan their calendars very, very carefully. Their training schedules and rest schedules are closely linked to the dates of events like the Olympics, World Championships and major IAAF meets. But this does not mean that sub-standard participants will come to Delhi. The Games are a stepping stone for younger athletes to make a name on the international level, and for these guys, it is a great event. I have no doubt that we will see new stars shine in Delhi."
The reality is that there is a massive disparity in the level of performances between those at the top and those who are a couple of notches below. For the common man, 0.5 seconds over 100-metres might not mean much, but for Bolt, it is the difference between running in top gear, or strolling to victory. Top athletes thrive on competition.
Five-time Olympic gold medallist Steve Redgrave echoes the view. "Teams must compete at the same level. The Olympics are often unfair in that sense, because everyone is thrown in together. At the CWG, competition will be much tighter, and therefore it will be that much more exciting."
Then there is the fact that many of these pullouts, that of discus thrower Samuels, for example, will substantially increase the medal chances of India team.
High hopes. That's what Indian athletes have in mind. Though they feel athletics, like swimming, is one of the toughest events, they have not stopped dreaming.
Take Krishna Poonia. The discus thrower has been training keeping the Games in mind. "The Games being held in India, the event has got a different meaning for me," says Pooinia, the mother of an eight-year-old son. "If I am able to throw above 63m, I will have a great chance of winning a medal." With some of the top stars missing, India might win their first gold in athletics.
Even the 4x400 women's relay team is dreaming of a medal. "If everything goes well, the quartet should also win a medal," says Bahadur Singh, chief national coach.
Long jumper Mayookha Johney, who has been improving with every leap, feels she can win a medal. "I am hopeful of a medal if I clear 6.65m," she feels. Discus thrower Vikas Gowda and triple jumper Ranjith Maheswari feel they can win medals.
Hopefully, this turns out to be the best-ever Games for Indian athletes.