Bird-Smith favoured for gold in 20km walk

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Dane Bird-Smith will kick off ‘s track and field program at the Commonwealth Games.Walker Dane Bird-Smith shapes as the perfect person to get an n track and field team still reeling from the loss of Sally Pearson off to a winning start at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games.
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As the 20km bronze medallist from the Rio Olympics and a top-six finisher at last year’s world championships, Bird-Smith is the best-credentialed athlete in the field for the opening event on the athletics program.

The Brisbane-based Bird-Smith’s familiarity with the conditions and the course at Currumbin – which he helped design – should also play in his favour in the event which begins at 0700 AEST on Sunday.

“We’re up on the first day which is pretty much the same as the Olympics – the 20K is always the first event,” said Bird-Smith.

“It’s definitely a good thing to get out first, leading off gets the nerves out of the way and it also gives me the chance to really soak up the atmosphere afterwards.”

Bird-Smith, 25, is the gold-medal favourite in an event which has been won by an n each of the past five times it has been contested at Commonwealth level.

But with African nations belatedly showing genuine interest in race walking – rather than focusing almost exclusively on middle- and long-distance running – Kenyan duo Samuel Gathimba and Simon Wachira and South African Lebogang Shange should also be right in the mix.

The standard in the women’s 20km walk is much lower, with n Beki Smith topping the entry list, even though her best time last year was ranked only 90th in the world.

Countrywomen Jemima Montag and Claire Tallent – the wife of Olympic and multiple world champ Jared – should also contend for podium finishes.

The host nation’s best shot at another able-bodied medal on day one of the athletics competition is in the men’s hammer throw, where Matthew Denny is chasing the first leg of what would be a very rare double.

Englishman Nick Miller – the silver medallist from the 2014 Glasgow Games – is the gold-medal favourite, but Denny will fancy his chances of a podium finish.

If he achieves that aim, the multi-talented Denny will switch his focus to the discus later in the meet.

The only person ever to have medalled in both events at Commonwealth level was Canadian George Sutherland way back in 1938.

“We’re in unexplored territory doing this double,” said Denny.

“I enjoy the fact I can throw personal bests in both events to break from the norm.”

The other medal events on day one are the men’s 5000m and the women’s T38 long jump.

Other highlights on the program at Carrara Stadium on Sunday will be the opening rounds of the men’s and women’s 100m and the men’s 400m.

London Olympics finalist Steve Solomon is ‘s sole entrant in the one-lap race, where the world-class field includes the likes of Botswana’s Isaac Makwala and Grenada’s Bralon Taplin.

With team captain Pearson succumbing to an Achilles injury on the eve of the Games, only four ns top the 2017-18 rankings in their specialist events.

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