The bridge from Delhi to London is a long one

BY AARON LAWTON
Last updated 05:00 17/10/2010

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OPINION: In Beijing two years ago, more than 11,000 athletes attended and competed in 28 sports, while in Delhi there were 17 sports and half the number of athletes.

There's no doubt the Commonwealth Games is a great competition – although it's not as prestigious as it used to be – but talk about world-class sport and the Olympics is where it's at.

That much was obvious in the build-up to this problem-plagued event when a staggering number of top athletes had no qualms about pulling out.

And if New Zealand is to back up its Delhi performances in London in approximately 650 days, just as the Olympic motto says, the Kiwi athletes will need to be "faster, stronger or higher".

Four years ago in Melbourne, New Zealand won six gold medals, 12 silver and 13 bronze. Our athletes backed that up in Beijing with three golds, two silvers and four bronze. But to compare the Commonwealth Games to the Olympics is a tad insincere.

Yes, many of the standard sports feature in both programmes but we shouldn't forget there's also a truckload of key events in London that were missing from the Delhi schedule.

Rowing, for starters, is one to watch out for and the world championships to be held at Lake Karapiro later this month will give us some indication of where our rowers sit in the world. But even before an oar has been plunged into the water it would be safe to expect some medals in London will come from them.

The other key Kiwi sports not on the Commonwealth programme were triathlon, canoeing, sailing, equestrian and BMX.

New Zealand can conceivably expect to medal in all of these come London, equestrian possibly the exception.

From what we've seen of the sports on offer in Delhi, New Zealand's track cyclists, in nabbing nine medals across four days at the velodrome, have ensured targets on their backs in two years.

Unfortunately, the event we have made our own – the individual pursuit – has been removed from the Olympic programme.

At this Games, Alison Shanks won a gold medal in it, while rising star Jesse Sergent backed up his silver medal at the world champs with another silver in Delhi. Their forum for success in London will have to come in the teams' pursuit.

In athletics circles, a medal haul of seven from a team of 11 was an excellent return.

Valerie Adams' victory was such a certainty her coach Didier Poppe would have probably jumped in the much polluted Yamuna River if she'd bombed.

A gold medal in London, unlike in India, is not a certainty and Adams will be pushed hard by her Belarusian nemesis Nadzeya Ostapchuk.

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Of the other track medallists, Nick Willis' bronze medal was a fair result after an injury-plagued season. The 1500m race is so hard to predict with a fresh crop of champion Kenyans surfacing every year but Willis is a strategist, oozes class and should be on the podium in London.

The other one to watch is Nikki Hamblin, who won surprise silver medals in both the 1500m and 800m. She showed immense courage but medalling at an Olympic Games won't be easy.

Before Delhi, there were serious concerns about how the New Zealanders would fare in the pool. Their six medals – four silver and two bronze – showed progress from Beijing but also highlighted once again a massive gulf in class between us and our trans-Tasman neighbours.

Of course, if sport – be it at the Olympics, Commonwealth Games or simply a parking lot cricket match between a bunch of Indian kids – tells us one thing it's to expected the unexpected.

How will New Zealand perform in London? Come back and ask me in two years.

- Sunday News

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