THE Commonwealth Games will always have a special place in Allison Curbishley’s heart.
Not only did the Teessider win her first senior medal at the 1998 Commonwealths in Kuala Lumpar, representing Scotland, the birthplace of her father, but she will also play a prominent role in the closing stages of the baton relay that precedes the opening ceremony of this year’s Games in Glasgow.
The former 400m runner will carry the Commonwealth baton as it heads towards Celtic Park, the venue for next Wednesday’s opening ceremony, before taking up her seat in the BBC studios to provide radio co-commentary for the athletics events at the Games.
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Since retiring from competitive running in 2003, Stockton-born Curbishley has earned a reputation as one of the most respected athletics experts in the country.
With just a week to go before the start of this year’s Commonwealth Games, she has given The Northern Echo an exclusive lowdown on the region’s athletes hoping to make their mark in Glasgow.
CHRIS TOMLINSON (Long jump)
We still haven’t really seen Chris this season, so it’s hard to know exactly what shape he’s in. He’s been battling against injury and wasn’t able to compete at either the trials or the Diamond League in Glasgow last weekend.
We were hoping to see a head-to-head between Chris and Greg Rutherford at both of those events, but unfortunately it didn’t materialise. If they were both to be at the top of their form in Glasgow, it would be a great competition, but it’s hard to say with any certainty that will be the case.
That’s a real shame because the long jump is one of the events where the Commonwealth Games is fairly weak. There’s none of the big Cuban or American jumpers, although there is a useful South African, Godfrey Mokoena, who’s jumped over 8m this year.
Greg leads the rankings with his 8.51m, but anything over 8m is probably going to be good enough for a medal, and if he’s anywhere near his best, Chris is certainly capable of doing that. If he can get himself there in one piece, he should definitely be in medal contention.
LAURA WEIGHTMAN (1,500m)
Laura’s come on so much in the last year or so, but she’s slightly unfortunate in that the 1,500m final in Glasgow will not be too much below what you’d expect in a world or Olympic final. The standard is going to be that high.
You’ve got the girl ranked number one in the world this year in the shape of Hellen Obiri, and then you’ve also got her Kenyan team-mate Faith Kipyegon. Throw in Laura Muir, who’ll benefit from some strong home support in Glasgow, and you have the ingredients for a really hot race.
But Laura is going in third-ranked in terms of times and she’s already shown on a number of occasions this year that she’s in the best form of her life.
It’s going to be a big Championship summer for Laura. She made the final of the 1,500m in London (in 2012) and that was a huge achievement, but the Commonwealths and Europeans give her a chance to start really competing for medals and that’s what she needs to be doing now.
ALYSON DIXON (Marathon)
The Commonwealth Games marathon is always one of the most unpredictable races on the calendar. You don’t have the Ethiopians there, and some of the leading marathon runners tend to swerve the championships in favour of the big-city marathons.
That said though, Alyson will still be up against Phyllis Ongori, a really talented Kenyan, and she’ll have strong domestic competition in the shape of Susan Partridge.
Alyson’s been preparing well though and I think she’ll line up with as good a chance as anyone. I know she’s been working quite closely with Paula Radcliffe and tapping into some of Paula’s experience, and she’s benefited from being part of the British endurance squad and going to a training camp in Kenya.
Championship marathons often throw up little anomalies because suddenly you’re not racing against the clock and some people deal with that better than others. I don’t think it’ll be a massively quick race, and if Alyson gets her tactics right, she could have a squeak at a medal.
RICHARD KILTY (100m and 4x100m relay)
It’s been a tough season for Richard because there’s been a lot of pressure on his shoulders in the wake of his win at the World Indoors, but he’s found himself caught up in a huge domestic rivalry that’s really raised the bar in terms of British sprinting.
You’ve had CJ (Chijindu Ujah) and James (Dasaolu) putting in sensational times, and that’s before you get to the likes of Adam Gemili and Dwain Chambers, who have also stepped up to the mark.
That’s left Richard trailing a little bit, and had the selection for the Commonwealths come another couple of weeks later, he probably wouldn’t have made the team.
If he makes the final of the individual event he’ll have done extremely well because aside from the other British guys, there’ll be three strong Jamaicans and Richard Thompson, who’s proven himself time and time again at major championships.
Richard’s also in the relay squad, and he’s run some solid first legs recently, so you’d like to think he’s cemented that place for himself. Provided the guys get the baton around safely, they should be in the first three.
JADE JONES (1,500m T54)
There’s a mixed programme at the Commonwealths, with Paralympians taking part alongside able-bodied competitors, and it’s great to see Jade flying the flag for the North-East.
I haven’t actually seen her run this year because her event hasn’t been on the Diamond League programmes, but I know Tanni (Grey-Thompson) has been really pleased with the way she’s been progressing.
She’s been doing marathon training and that seems to have helped in terms of building up her strength and stamina for when she returns to the track.
There’s none of the Canadian or American athletes in Glasgow, who tend to be some of her main competitors, but it still looks a fairly strong field. Hopefully, Jade will be up there though because this a great chance for her to win a medal on a big stage.