WORKING at the Commonwealth Games office in Victoria, Canada, earlier this year, it was common to hear someone announce ''it's a bigger event than the Winter Olympics''. This ''rah rah'' mentality seemed to be a statement made to give some relevance to an event that had lost a lot of its lustre in recent years among sporting circles. With recent memories of the boycott of 32 nations at the 1986 Edinburgh Games over Margaret Thatcher's unwillingness to impose economic sanctions against South Africa for their practice of apartheid and the disqualification of three weightlifters for drug use at the 1990 Auckland Games, the Victoria Games organisers have been working hard to polish the Games' image. Despite the problems behind the scenes, the Commonwealth Games still attract world-class talent. With 67 nations, including a re-admitted South Africa, set to compete the competition in Victoria will be keen. Even without the presence of American and eastern European athletes, the track and field events at the Games still read like a page from and athletics Who's Who. Linford Christie of England, the reigning Commonwealth 100-metre champion and Olympic silver medallist, will be in for a strong challenge as Nigerians Davidson Ezinwa and Olapade Adeniken have run two of the fastest times in the world this year behind world record holder Leroy Burell of the US. Canada's Bruny Surin, Jamaica's Ray Stewart and 1992 Olympic silver medallist Frankie Fredericks of Namibia will also make it hard for Christie to repeat his success. The 200-metre promises to be a rematch of last year's World Track and Field Championships where Namibia's Fredericks will again face a strong challenge from John Regis of England. Daniel Effiong of Nigeria has run the fastest 200 metres this year. And 1992 Olympic bronze medallist Samson Kitur of Kenya shows no signs of letting up in the 400-metre as he has clocked the fastest time in the world this year. He will undoubtedly be challenged by sentimental favourite Derek Redmond of England - best remembered for being helped by his father to finish his race at the Olympics after being injured in a fall. The 800 metres is a Kenyan-dominated event. William Tanul and Nixon Kiprotich finished one-two in Barcelona while Paul Ruto finished first at last year's World Championships. In the 5,000 metres Kenya's Ismael Kirui and Olympic silver medallist Paul Bitok will be challenged by Australia's Andrew Lloyd. The 110-metre hurdles promises an exciting showdown between arch-rivals Mark McKoy of Canada and Colin Jackson of Wales. Jackson is the reigning champion while McKoy won the event the previous two times. Winthrop Graham of Jamaica and Kriss Akbusi of England finished two-three in the 400-metre hurdles at Barcelona but will face a hard task in winning against Samuel Matete of Zambia who has recorded the world's second-fastest time this year. Though the women's athletic events do not boast as many big names, there will still be a number of well-known sprinters and hurdlers in Victoria. Veteran Jamaican Merlene Ottey has to be favoured in the women's 100 metres after losing by an eyelash to the US's Gale Devers at last year's World Championships in Germany. The 1990 Commonwealth gold medal winner will be pushed by fellow Jamaican's Juliet Cuthbert and Grace Jackson as well as the Nigerian trio of Mary Onyali, Charity Opara and Beatrice Utondu. Along with Ottey, Sally Gunnell of England will command a large following from both spectators and the media. A world record holder in the 400-metre hurdles, Gunnell is both the defending Olympic and Commonwealth champion. Australia will be a strong favourite to win gold medal in the discus courtesy of east European import Daniela Costian. After defecting from Romania in the late 1980s, Costian won the silver for her adopted country at the 1992 Olympics and has recorded the top throw in the world this year. Even at 38 years old England's Tessa Sanderson, the three-time Commonwealth gold and Olympic gold medallist, will be an intimidating presence to the younger competitors. In the pool, it will be an outright battle as Canada, England and New Zealand try to usurp Australia's long-standing swimming supremacy. In the 1,500-metre freestyle, Australia has won the event at 11 of the past 14 Games. With 1992 Olympic gold medallist Kieren Perkins entered, the streak should continue. If Perkins cannot do it, his compatriot Glen Houseman, who won the gold medal at the 1990 Games, will. The rivalry will continue in the 400-metre freestyle as Perkins won a silver at Barcelona, Houseman finished second at Auckland. They should finish one-two in Victoria. After capturing bronze medals at both the Commonwealth and Olympic Games, Nick Gillingham of England will be looking to win a gold medal in the 200-metre breaststroke. Although he set a European record at last year's European Championships, Gillingham will have to beat defending Commonwealth champ Jon Cleveland of Canada if he is to take the gold. Then came Haley Lewis. At the age of 15, the Brisbane native dominated in the pool at Auckland winning five golds and a bronze. At Lewis, now 19, is a sure bet to dominate in Victoria but Nikki Dryden swimming for Canada in her hometown will provide a stiff challenge.