Commonwealths gain clout

Brian Roe.

Brian Roe.

IT'S the right decision to be sending 103 Australians to this year's Commonwealth Games in track and field.

With the growing limitations on opportunities for this country's developing elite sportsmen and women, it is critical that we seize any chance we get to provide valuable experience.

And experience indeed it will be with Commonwealth athletes dominating so many events already on this year's world athletics circuits.

There have always been events offering easier medal chances in the Commonwealth athletics competition but these are becoming rarer. And while many of the bigger names stayed away from Delhi four years ago, that won't be the case in Glasgow.

No longer is it a battle between England, Canada and Australia to fight it out for supremacy on the Games track and field medal table. Athletes from the Caribbean and Africa have not only become the dominant forces in so many disciplines in the Commonwealth - in many instances they rule the world.

With one or two exceptions, there will be no gimmes in Glasgow. Even our best athletes, such as Sally Pearson and our women javelin throwers, have no easy path to victory this time around.

That's why it was so valuable and important to select a big team.

It didn't happen for Delhi when the athletics high performance strategy was looking for something different.

The state and territory associations fired up and got backing from the Athletics Australia board of directors for a change of direction. And there was no problem as far as the Australian Commonwealth Games Association, which had always been on board.

And just as well, for the planets were aligning, meanwhile, in such a way that the Commonwealth Games abruptly took on even greater significance in terms of the long-term survival and relevance of Australian athletics.

The IAAF has tightened the eligibility conditions for future world championships and Olympic Games and domestically the Australian Sports Commissions Winning Edge program is beginning to substantially restrict the number of emerging athletes who will be provided with support.

Suddenly the Commonwealths provide not only an increasingly rare chance for national representation - but even more importantly a platform from which athletes can seize the moment, gain vital international experience and perhaps enhance their reputations sufficiently to attract funding and further selection.

And now for the sport there is a further emerging threat - a considerably greater risk of the four-year talent drain to the United States. Already some of the emerging stars in this year's team, including 400 metres man Steve Solomon and discus thrower Julian Wruck, are US college-based.

US colleges crave our young track and field athletes. There are three or four agencies in Australia actively recruiting on their behalf and as a result there have never been more teenagers heading across the Pacific.

With the promise of four years of free education, sometimes at the very best American universities with board, coaching, allowances and loads of competition opportunities thrown in, it is becoming harder to resist, especially with the prospect of a degree at home becoming even more expensive.

Never have the Commonwealth Games been more vital for Australian athletics than right now.

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