The presence of Usain Bolt and Mo Farah adds lustre and will have Hampden roaring, writes Guy Aspin
THE news the organisers of the 2014 Commonwealth Games had been praying for came 23 days ago. It arrived from Jamaica in a short message on the official website of Usain Bolt. And it amounted to this: “Count me in.”
The world’s fastest man, the six-time Olympic champion, the saviour of the 100 metres, has yet to race this year following a foot injury, but has RSVP’d to say he will be joining the party in Glasgow.
“I have received lots of requests, invitations and messages of support from my fans in Scotland who are looking forward to a great event,” the 27-year-old said.
The evening of Saturday, 2 August is set to be when he lights up the track at Hampden Park, in the final of the 4x100 metres relay.
He will be missed in the individual 100m and 200m, although his absence should make for more open races, especially with his out-of-form training partner Yohan Blake skipping the Games altogether.
One man who will be looking to capitalise over the shorter distance is Adam Gemili, who also reckons England can give Bolt’s Jamaican team a run for their money in the relay.
“You know how talented he is, it’s going to be tough, but I think if we get the baton round we’ve got the speed in the team to hopefully get ourselves up there with them,” Gemili said.
Along with everyone’s favourite Jamaican, Glasgow is in line to welcome a host of the heroes who thrilled at London 2012.
Mo Farah will bid for the triple-double, looking to add Commonwealth gold over 5,000m and 10,000m to the pair of world titles he won last year and the Olympic triumphs the year before.
Farah is back on the track after a less-than-successful venture into marathon running – his eighth-placed finish in London in April was not the reward he was looking for from months of hard training for his debut over 26.2 miles – but will have to make sure he is back to his best and recovered from recent abdominal pains to see off the challenge of his Kenyan rivals.
Farah’s fellow, less celebrated, champion from that glorious Super Saturday night in Stratford, long jumper Greg Rutherford, joins him in the England team and is relishing another partisan, big-stadium atmosphere.
“It’s going to be a massively special summer,” said the Milton Keynes athlete, who is out to prove his Olympic success was no flash in the pan.
The third member of Great Britain’s golden triumvirate, and the poster girl of London 2012, heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, will be watching on TV following the birth last week of her first child, but the Games will feature the athlete billed as her successor.
Katarina Johnson-Thompson would be a worthy one too and is in pole position to take Commonwealth gold in the absence of her illustrious compatriot. The 21-year-old from Liverpool is the world No.1 after her victory in Gotzis, the unofficial world championship, in May when she set a new personal best of 6,682 points.
Despite her tender years, she has long since grown used to the Ennis-Hill comparisons and has the personality to cope with them, according to Neil Black, the performance director of British Athletics.
“She is one of the calmest, she is focused, she gets on with the business and is a great communicator,” Black said.
Johnson-Thompson proved she could handle pressure when she thrived at London 2012 aged just 19, but for others Glasgow offers the chance to lay some Olympic ghosts to rest.
Few Britons endured a more disappointing home Olympics than triple jumper Phillips Idowu, the Commonwealth champion in 2006.
A build-up overshadowed by a public spat with then British head coach Charles van Commenee and by injury concerns ended with a clearly unfit Idowu crashing out in qualifying.
He is back competing internationally after taking a break from the sport, although far from in the form which made him one of the world’s best at his peak.
Home hopes will rest mainly with the women. Eilidh Child in the 400m hurdles, Lynsey Sharp in the 800m and Laura Muir in the 800m and 1500m will be sure to get Hampden rocking.
“I have never represented Scotland before at a senior championships,” Sharp said.
She, like her team-mates, will be hoping to rise to the occasion.