It is finally time to get to the brass tacks. And as the action commences at the Commonwealth Games across six venues, the swimming events look set to be the main focus of the 12-day Games, being one of the few disciplines that has been fortunate not to have suffered from the exodus of stars, citing one reason or the other.
The impressive star cast is to include six reigning world champions, five current world number ones and a fair sprinkling of world junior and university champions not to forget the huge chunk of continental champions, who all would be attempting to leave an indelible mark at the renovated S.P. Mukherjee pool here from Monday. Alas, the only big name missing is that of the peerless Stephanie Rice, the Aussie sensation still recuperating from a shoulder operation in August.
The form book too does promise of many close calls and blanket finishes in most of the 38 finals which are to be held between Oct. 4 and 9, even as the ever-dominant Australians would be on the look-out to continue with their hegemony pushing aside a resurgent England and Canada one more time.
In fact, the Aussies have recently taken a dip in the world team rankings, down from the perennial No. 2 spot to fifth, and thus also have their work cut out to ensure that this reverse in their team's fortunes is only a temporary aberration. However, they still could be swept aside in many an event.
Like in the men's freestyle events where Canada's Brent Hayden and Ryan Cochrane, South African Roland Schoeman, Trinidad's George Bovell and England's Simon Burnett could all spoil the party of the Australian trio of Eamon Sullivan, Ashley Callus and Robert Hurley. Or again in the backstroke events as the English duo of Liam Tancock and James Goddard could prove to be handful to the Australian standard-bearers Daniel Arnamnart, Hayden Stoeckel and Ashley Delaney.
In the event, the Aussies could be only at home in the breaststroke and butterfly events, as Brenton Rickard, Christian Sprenger, Geoff Huegil, Andrew Lauterstein and Nick D'Arcy look certain to dominate their respective events before leaving the way open for England's Goddard and Roberto Pavoni in the individual medley events.
The three relays too are expected to witness some stiff competition as the Aussies could be chased all the way down to the wire by their rivals from South Africa, England and Canada.
The Aussies are comparatively better off in the women's section but not again in the freestyle events wherein the English pair of Fran Halsall and Rebecca Adlington should start as favourites in their respective events against the likes of Emily Seebohm, Blair Evans, Bronte Barratt and Kylie Palmer.
The young Seebohm who will be seen in action in as many as eight events will also have to tide over a strong challenge from England's Lizzie Simmonds and Gemma Spofforth in the backstroke events, even though she and compatriot Sophie Edington are the strong favourites to win the 50m gold medal.
With history beckoning her, Liesel Jones, on the other hand, should do the Aussies proud in the breaststroke events in the company of teammate Leiston Pickett, though Canada's Annamay Pierse would see herself as a strong contender for the 200m title.
In butterfly, the Aussies would be looking out for a clean sweep from the likes of Marieke Gueher, Yolane Kukla, Seebohm and Jessicah Schipper by leaving their rivals in their wake.
Seebohm is the favourite in the 200m individual medley while European champion Hannah Miley (Scotland) would be the one to watch out in the 400m.
Australia should also fancy itself to the three relay gold medals at stake, though Canada, England and Wales could come between it, in the event of slip here or there.
The Indians among all these dazzling performers are hardly expected to make any impact and it would be a miracle if anyone of our swimmers even makes it to a final.
Keywords: Commonwealth Games 2010