Lenton record bid comes into focus
MELBOURNE, Mar 15 (Reuters) Australian Libby Lenton's quest for a record seven Commonwealth Games gold medals will come into sharp focus on the first day of swimming competition tomorrow.
Lenton has dismissed talk of seven golds as ''ridiculous'' but she will be favourite to take the first on offer in the women's 200 metres freestyle.
Olympic champions and world record holders South Africa can inject momentum into their team's challenge, and momentarily silence the Melbourne crowd, in the men's 4x100m freestyle relay.
The hype surrounding Lenton's drive for seven golds has gained enormous attention after Ian Thorpe pulled out through illness this month.
Long-distance specialist Grant Hackett is also absent, leaving home hopes in the water resting on the shoulders of the women.
Lenton is the third-fastest woman in history in the 200 freestyle and has a realistic chance of emulating the six gold medals won by Thorpe in 2002 and Susie O'Neill in 1998.
Compatriots Linda Mackenzie and Bronte Barratt, along with England's Melanie Marshall, are likely to be Lenton's only real challengers in the 200.
Lenton is also set to swim the 50 and 100 freestyle, the 100 butterfly, as well as the 4x100 free, 4x200 free and 4x100 medley relays.
Welshman David Davies will be using the men's 400 freestyle as a tune-up for his assault on the 1,500 metres title next week.
The Olympic bronze medallist is a strong favourite in swimming's 'iron man' event in the absence of Hackett, who has not been beaten over the distance since 1996.
Scot David Carry, Canadian Andrew Hurd and Australia's Craig Stevens will also be in the mix in the 400.
Stevens will have added incentive after being drafted in as a late replacement for Thorpe in the home nation's squad.
A repeat of South Africa's world record relay time at the Athens Olympics is unlikely with the United States not involved and Australia well below full strength.
But a South African team boasting Roland Schoeman and Ryk Neethling are still short-odds favourites for the gold medal.
Australia's Brooke Hanson will be aiming to bounce back after her disappointing showing at last year's world championships in the women's 200 individual medley.
Australian swimmers won 27 out of the 40 gold medals at the 2002 Commonwealth Games in Manchester and are being tipped to win around 20 in Melbourne.
REUTERS AY RK1155