Valerie Adams, Tom Walsh have shot at gold

MARK GEENTY IN GLASGOW
Last updated 05:00 26/07/2014

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Athletics

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Move aside. The big, friendly giants from New Zealand have arrived to collect your Scottish gold.

The throwers in black are ready to heave, and have a cracker night at Hampden Park, when the seven-day Commonwealth Games athletics programme opens early Monday (NZT).

Big guns and shot put gold medal favourites Valerie Adams and Tom Walsh wore smiles as wide as their throwing arcs this week.

Adams wielded the New Zealand flag and jigged her way around Celtic Park on Thursday, then Walsh rode into town and gladly claimed Glasgow as his second home, having thrown 21.23m at Hampden on July 11. No-one in the men's field has thrown further this year.

Kiwi focus will be stronger on the big boppers than the middle distance whippets who were historically front and centre. All six throwers are ranked top-five in the Commonwealth; including fellow shot putter Jacko Gill (fourth), US-based hammer thrower Julia Ratcliffe (third), discus woman Siositina Hakeai (fourth) and javelin man Stuart Farquhar (fifth, and the silver medallist in 2010). 

"It's great for New Zealand athletics; there's six throwers with a shot at medals," Walsh said.

The absence of most of Europe and the United States certainly makes it easier, but potential for the 2016 Olympics is the key measure Athletics New Zealand wants from Glasgow.

Adams is a raging favourite to do three in a row, her best throw for the year 1.36m clear of nearest rival Cleo Borel of Trinidad and Tobago.

Walsh is confident, too, and will resume his curious but captivating rivalry with teenage strongman Gill. Canadians Tom Nedow and Justin Rodhe, and Jamaican O'Dayne Richards are contenders in a field Walsh described as the strongest at Commonwealth level.

Walsh's Glasgow throw this month is 0.53m better than Gill's best effort in Rarotonga in June.

"Obviously I never want to lose to someone younger than me. He's taken a slightly different path to me but you never know. Hopefully we can both throw well," Walsh said with a grin.

Asked if he knew how Gill was throwing, Walsh said: "I haven't seen. It's not that we purposely miss each other but we just seem to. I'm sure he's going good." Walsh, whose last day at work on the building site in Christchurch was on May 20, joined Adams for training. Adams' coach Jean-Pierre Egger made his mark.

"He's just an awesome guy and he'll do anything to help you. And Val's awesome to have around as well because not many people get to have someone in the same sport who's as successful as her and knows the tricks of the trade. All the hard work is paying off."

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Mo Farah's withdrawal is a big blow to the programme, but Jamaica's fastest Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (in the relays only) add star power with Olympic 400m gold medallist Kirani James (Grenada) and 800m champion David Rudisha (Kenya).

New Zealand's squad of 22 emerged mostly through a Cardiff training camp, while long-distance brothers Zane and Jake Robertson jet in from training bases in St Moritz and Kenya. Athletics NZ high performance director Scott Goodman has a broad target.

"I'll be disappointed with fewer than four [medals] and ecstatic with six or more."

Nick Willis, who won gold in Melbourne 2006 and bronze four years later, is a huge chance to climb a third 1500m podium in the absence of Kenyan fliers Asbel Kiprop and Silas Kiplagat. He broke his own national 1500m record last weekend, and knocked off John Walker's national 3000m mark in June as he eyes the 5000m on night one.

Nikki Hamblin lit up Delhi with silvers in the 800m and 1500m, but a long layoff after surgery to remove bone spurs from both heels leaves her short of her best form. Rival Angie Smit was dominant in the home season and could pop up in her preferred 800m.

Decathlete Brent Newdick is also back to try and repeat his 2010 silver, one of seven medals for the New Zealand team in Delhi. If they can top that tally, a successful campaign is assured.

- The Dominion Post

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