Will the Australian hegemony continue?

Four years ago, in Melbourne, Australia finished with a total haul of 54 medals (19 gold, 18 silver and 17 bronze). Though it would be tough for Australia to match this tally in Delhi, it could still finish on top, writes A. Vinod.

The chances of the renovated Dr. S. P. Mukherjee pool in New Delhi witnessing a sizeable number of close calls and photo finishes are plenty. Especially since a resurgent England, Canada and South Africa would be keen to upset Australia, a dominant force in swimming, at the Commonwealth Games.

Yet it is quite unlikely that the swimmers from Down Under would be knocked off the pedestal quite easily, as Australia is expected to field some of its best known talent and proven world beaters.

Four years ago, in Melbourne, Australia finished with a total haul of 54 medals (19 gold, 18 silver and 17 bronze). Though it would be tough for Australia to match this tally in Delhi, it could still finish on top in the race for medals.

But then, this does not mean that it would be an Australian show all the way, especially since its men's team — much like in Melbourne — remains its weakest link. In 2006, the Australian men contributed just a solitary gold medal to the team's overall tally.

The form book clearly indicates that more than the Aussies it would be the Canadian swimmers, Brent Hayden and Ryan Cochrane, and South Africa's Ronald Schoeman who stand a better chance of winning four of the five freestyle gold medals up for grabs. Hayden will be the favourite for the 100m gold, while compatriot Cochrane would be hoping to keep his growing reputation in the 400m and 1500m events intact. Meanwhile Schoeman will be attempting to win his third gold in a row in the 50m.

In the 200m freestyle, Australia's chance of winning a gold medal rests more with Thomas Fraser Holmes than its experienced Eamon Sullivan and Ashley Callus.

In backstroke, England's Liam Tancock and James Goddard start as firm favourites for the three titles at stake. However, in breast stroke, the Aussies could come up trumps if Brenton Rickard and Christian Sprenger manage to hold off the challenge from Canada's Scott Dickens, England's Michael Jameson and New Zealand's Glenn Snyders. Similarly, in butterfly too the Aussies could reap rich rewards with Geoff Huegill, Andrew Lauterstein and Nicholas D'Arcy expected to finish ahead of their rivals. But it would be a different picture in the individual medley events where England's Goddard, Joseph Roebuck and Roberto Pavoni are likely to steal the show.

In the women's section, Australia will be without its seasoned Stephanie Rice, who has pulled out due to a shoulder injury. The team, thus, will be under severe pressure to deliver and will depend on veteran Liesel Jones and the inexperienced teenagers, Emily Seebohm and Yolane Kukla, to extend its domination in the Commonwealth Games. Seebohm will have a hectic schedule in Delhi, while Kukla, who will turn 15 just before the Games, could be competing in as many as six events.

Jones, 24, on her part, will be at the Games hoping to create history by becoming the first swimmer to win two events thrice in a row, thereby extending her reign at the top in both the 100m and 200m breaststroke events.

The Aussie swimmer, who has so far won seven gold medals — three in Manchester in 2002 and four in Melbourne in 2006 — will also be hoping to retain her titles in the 50m and 400m medley relay.

Much like in the men's section, the women's freestyle events are also likely to be dominated by the English swimmers, Francesca Halsall and double Olympic champion Rebecca Adlington. England will also be expecting Elizabeth Simmonds to win the 200m back stroke and Halsall to finish on top in the 100m butterfly. Meanwhile Scotland will be hoping to win a gold medal through Hannah Miley in the 400m individual medley.

Besides swimming, the aquatics events will also feature competitions in diving and synchronised swimming for a total of 50 gold medals.

Host India will compete in all these events but it is unlikely to make any impact as its swimmers and divers have a long way to go before they can catch up with the mighty Aussies and the rest.

It would be an occasion to rejoice even if any of the host's swimmers make it to the final.