Aussies look keen & mean

New Delhi may be missing the sprint sensation Usain Bolt and the glamorous Olympic swimming champion Stephanie Rice. But new stars will emerge and then rise further to sparkle at the Olympics. Well, Emily Seebohm could just be one of them, writes Stan Rayan.

Two years ago, at the Beijing Olympics, Emily Seebohm was so nervous that she lost nearly seven kilos.

“She was like a deer in the headlights,” her coach said, after the 16-year-old Australian swimmer failed to make the 100m backstroke final.

There has been a wonderful transformation in the young girl over the last two years. And now, the 18-year-old could turn out to be the golden girl of the New Delhi Commonwealth Games.

Seebohm, who stunned American Olympic 100m backstroke champion Natalie Coughlin and American 200 individual medley World record-holder Ariana Kukors at the recent Pan Pacific Championship in California on her way to two golds and four silvers, will be taking part in eight events in Delhi and is capable of winning medals in all.

Australia is a dominant force in the Commonwealth Games, a regular medal-table topper. It took more than a third of all the gold medals at the last five editions. Even when England hosted the Games in Manchester in 2002, Australia was miles ahead of the host.

England had taken the second spot in the last three editions — in Melbourne, Manchester and Kuala Lumpur — but India, which finished fourth in the last two editions, could be eying the second rung in the medals ladder this time, hoping to get a bulk of its golds through shooting, weightlifting, wrestling and archery. The pullout of some of the top stars will help the host's cause in a big way.

Aquatics has been Australia's forte at the Commonwealth Games. It brought 33 of the country's 84 golds at the last Games in Melbourne four years ago and the scene is likely to be the same in Delhi too. Women have played a big role in the Australian supremacy, both in the overall gold count (women 47, men 35) and in swimming (women 16, men 3).

Former world champion Geoff Huegill, Olympic champion Leisel Jones, breaststroke world record holders Christian Spregner and Brenton Rickard, Olympic and World champion Jessicah Schippers and the 14-year-old star Yolane Kukla will be some of the other swimmers Australia will be banking on to bring it a rich haul in Delhi. Double Olympic gold medalist Rebecca Adlington and world champions Liam Tancock and Gemma Spofforth will spearhead the England challenge.

With one bad news after another popping up, confusion reigned as the countdown to the Delhi Games reached the home stretch with some of the biggest names in athletics, including Kenya's 800m world record holder David Rudisha, England's world champion triple jumple jumper Phillips Idowu, Australia's women's discus world champion Dani Samuels, Kenya's Olympic 1500 champion Asbel Kiprop and former 800m world champion Janeth Jepkosgei pulling out.

Of course, the biggest blow came from the planet's fastest man, triple Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt of Jamaica, who had made up his mind to stay away much before all the negative news began to flood in.

Kenya's 1500m Olympic champion Nancy Jebet Lagat, Australia's World and Olympic champion pole-vaulter Steve Hooker, South Africa's 800m World champion Caster Semenya and Australia's world indoor long jump winner Fabrice Lapierre are some of the big names who are expected in athletics. But with many of the teams delaying their departure, there is a big confusion about who will be present and who will be missing.

Athletics will also see a royal battle between some of the stars of the European and African championships held recently in Barcelona and Nairobi.

Malaysian squash queen Nicol David, the World No. 1 who won the women's World Open title for the fifth time equalling Australian Sarah Fitz-Gerald's record, Malaysia's World No. 1 men's badminton player Lee Chong Wei and its world's top-ranked men's doubles pair of Koo Kien Keat and Tan Boon Heong and Australia's two-time Olympic champion trap shooter Michael Diamond are some of the other big names who will be in action in Delhi.

Many consider the Commonwealth Games as the stepping stone for the Olympics, especially England, which will be hosting the next Summer Games in London in 2012.

New Delhi may be missing the sprint sensation Usain Bolt and the glamorous Olympic swimming champion Stephanie Rice. But new stars will emerge and then rise further to sparkle at the Olympics.

Well, Emily Seebohm could just be one of them.