AS the news came through that Mo Farah would not be running at Hampden this week, the Glasgow 2014 hierarchy must have been praying that the medals they had been planning for on day one materialised.
The schedule had been prepared to give Scotland the best possible chance of getting off to a bright start, bolstering pride and offering the games the early injection of enthusiasm needed to prevent moans about the inconvenience of road closures, traffic diversions or parking restrictions snowballing.
But, even as the judo stars were getting off to a superb start in the SECC and the swimmers were posting Commonwealth records and qualifying en masse for the evening finals, the news that the Englishman had withdrawn was a downer on proceedings.
Okay, it wasn’t entirely unexpected, but, for those who bought tickets for Hampden hoping to see the double Olympian repeat that feat over 5,000m and 10,000m in Glasgow, it was a massive disappointment. That was acknowledged by the organisers who must be wondering whether they will manage to get to the athletics start line with any marquee names still committed.
“There’s no question we’re disappointed that Mo Farah announced he would be withdrawing. We’re very disappointed for Mo. We knew how much he wanted to be here,” said Glasgow 2014 chief executive David Grevemberg. “I’m sure there will be some disappointed people, but there are plenty of great athletes who are here and will be competing.
Many, many great athletes, countless role models and inspirational competitors galore for anyone willing to look a little deeper but it is the increasing shortage of athletes who are already household names that threatens to undermine these Games, especially when the cycling and the swimming come to an end.
The appearance of Sir Bradley Wiggins at the Sir Chris Velodrome was a boost but he won’t be tackling the road race. The appeal of the sport had already been diluted in the minds of some by the absence of Hoy himself.
Wales’ Becky James, who is a two-times world champion is sidelined by a knee injury, and the disappointment was compounded by the enforced withdrawal of Mark Cavendish. The Isle of Man rider was the victim of a shoulder injury after he took a tumble in the Tour de France but, given the scope for home success, and the relatively limited capacity in the purpose-built velodrome, the enthusiasm remained high and the cycling briefs remained the hottest tickets in town.
But athletics is different. Considered of greatest interest to most spectators, by the time they get under way Team Scotland will hope the squad will be well on target to better their best-ever medal haul.
If they aren’t, then there is the danger that the excitement generated in the build-up to these Games and whipped up further on the opening days, could be snuffed out by an athletics programme that is brim full of talent but not too many of the people the average Joe will be familiar with.
They will have the home athletes but precious few are genuine gold medal contenders. The blue riband part of any Games needs some recognisable stars and there will be one fewer of those now that Farah has announced he will remain at his training camp in Font Romeu and concentrate on getting himself fit for action in the upcoming Europeans rather than travelling to Glasgow.
He joins the likes of Dwain Chamber, who has chosen to focus on Europe, while Jessica Ennis-Hill opted to have a child rather than try to add to her bling and her fellow heptathlete Katarina Johnson-Thompson, admitted defeat on Monday, scuppered by a pesky foot injury.
Usain Bolt didn’t help matters when he failed to take part in his national trials and, as a consequence, the only chance his fans will have of seeing him at Hampden will be in the sprint relay.
And only he knows if he is really planning to grace the Games with his presence. The organisers are playing it cool but, with his fellow Jamaican sprinters Yohan Blake (hamstring) and Asafa Powell (banned), already weakening the field, they must have everything crossed.
News on when Bolt is expected to turn up is sketchy, which has given life to fears he will follow Farah and fail to show.
Farah was one of the poster boys of these Games following his success in the 5,000m and 10,000m at London 2012 but, he still shy of his top form, he said he had made the tough decision to opt out of these events and concentrate on August’s European Championships in Zurich.
He had offered a glimmer of hope to his fans and the marketing people charged with maximising the Games’ profile when, despite missing the Diamond League meeting in Glasgow earlier this month because of illness, he stated he was confident of appearing and claiming that training was going well.
“The sickness I had two weeks ago was a big setback, he said. “Training is getting better but I need another few weeks to get back to the level I was at in 2012 and 2013. I really wanted to add the Commonwealth titles to my Olympic and World Championships, but the event is coming a few weeks too soon for me. My body is telling me it’s not ready to race yet.”
Farah’s body may not be in peak condition but neither is the athletics schedule with so many of the world stars missing.
There will be new household names by the time the Closing Ceremony comes round and fresh tales to tell but, until then, this sporting extravaganza will need to twinkle without so many stars.