By Sam Holden and Michael Hann
LONDON (Reuters) - Olympic champions Usain Bolt and Mo Farah lead a cast of the world's leading athletes descending on Glasgow to compete in the Commonwealth Games starting in Scotland’s biggest city on Wednesday.
World-record holders, decorated Olympians and novice participants make up the 6,500 athletes representing 70 Commonwealth nations who share the aim of claiming prizes in 261 medal events in 17 sports.
Scotland hosts the 20th edition of the multi-sport event for the third time and instead of trying to emulate the success of the London 2012 Olympic Games, it will offer something quite different over 11 days of competition. Although the Games may not be held in the same regard as the Olympics or a world championship without superpowers such as the United States, China and Russia, there will be plenty of household names and fairytale stories.
Six-times Olympic gold medalist Bolt will bring a dose of showmanship to the Hampden Park running track when the towering Jamaican attempts to win his first Commonwealth medal in the 4x100 meters relay.
"I am available for relay duty if the selectors feel I can be an asset to the Jamaican team in Glasgow," Bolt said.
"I have received lots of requests, invitations and messages of support from my fans in Scotland who are looking forward to a great event.
England’s double Olympic and world champion Farah, who is fit to take part in the 5,000m and 10,000m after recovering from abdominal pains, will join Bolt in Glasgow and the pair will be hoping to perform their customary ‘lightning bolt’ and ‘Mobot’ celebrations.
"The Commonwealth Games is different from the Olympics," the 31-year-old Farah said.
"In terms of which countries are involved, you have everyone at the Olympics so it's not going to be the same, but at the same time it's another title.
"I'm very excited to compete for England and go out there."
David Rudisha, Kenya’s Olympic 800 meters champion and world record holder, will return to Glasgow after romping to victory at the Diamond League meeting last week and New Zealand’s Olympic and world shot put champion Valerie Adams remains unbeaten in her last 53 competitions.
Australia is expected to dominate the swimming with the likes of Cate Campbell, Christian Sprenger and James Magnussen, but home favorite Michael Jamieson will receive st ong support in his bid to become the 200 meters breaststroke champion.
South African Chad Le Clos, who beat the great Michael Phelps to Olympic gold in the men's 200 meters butterfly in London two years ago, will also try to add to the five Commonwealth medals he won in New Delhi four years ago. "Hopefully, I can get one or two gold medals,” Le Clos said.
“I'm hoping to do better than I did four years ago.
"It's not quite like the Olympic Games or the world championships where it's the best in the world. It's still going be tough having the Aussies, the Brits, and the Canadians there.
At cycling's Velodrome, named after Scotland’s six–times Olympic champion Chris Hoy, England possesses a strong team and Hoy’s former sprint partner Jason Kenny is the man to beat in the individual sprint, while 2012 Tour de France champion Bradley Wiggins takes part in the time trial.
But for all the talk surrounding the likes of Bolt and Farah, the Games also provides a platform for athletes from the lesser-known sports to make their name.
Squash is not recognized as an Olympic event and was rejected in favor of retaining wrestling at the 2020 and 2024 Games, meaning medals in Glasgow are the top prize for international competitors.
England’s three-times world champion Nick Matthew, who won the men’s singles and doubles titles in New Delhi, is the top seed in Glasgow and Malaysia's defending champion Nicol David leads the women's draw.
The integration of disability sports into the able-bodied program ensures that the some of the world's best athletes, regardless of classification, will be given equal billing.
Glasgow 2014 is a far cry from the Games that were held four years ago in New Delhi. The Indian hosts were dogged by preparation and security issues whereas the Scottish organizers' main concern will be the reliability of the British weather.
Whatever the conditions, the historic Celtic Park, home of former European Cup soccer winners Celtic, hosts the opening ceremony on Wednesday before the competition sprawls across the city, taking in venues mirroring the diversity of the events.
It all culminates in the finale at Hampden Park on Aug. 3 but not before some familiar faces, along with a few new ones, have made their mark.
(Editing by Ed Osmond)