Sprint showdown guarantees fast start
Friday, 15 August 2008

BEIJING, Aug 13 (bdnews24.com/Reuters) - Athletics finally joins the Olympic party on Friday and wastes little time getting to the most eagerly-awaited event of the Games with the 100 metres final on Saturday.

World record holder Usain Bolt, Jamaican compatriot Asafa Powell and world champion Tyson Gay, all sub-9.8 second runners, are heading for possibly the greatest 100 metres final and one that should thrust athletics spectacularly back into the spotlight.

"Last week we didn't have a track and we didn't have a field but now everything is in place," Lamine Diack, president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, said on Tuesday. "So I say: Let the Games begin."

Organisers laid the track and grass infield in the days following Friday's opening ceremony and the 91,000-capacity stadium is now ready for a mouth-watering programme.

The women's 100 metres is almost as intriguing as the men's with another likely duel between Jamaica and the United States, while both 5,000 and 10,000 metres could produce Ethiopian double winners in the form of Tirunesh Dibaba and Kenenisa Bekele.

The noisiest night is likely be Aug. 21 when local hero and defending champion Liu Xiang of China is under massive pressure from Cuban Dayron Robles, who took his 110 metres hurdles world record in June and has been in great form since.

The middle-distance races for both men and women look wide open and could produce unlikely nations on the podium and both marathons should also be compelling in tough conditions.

At this stage, however, the 100 metres is everybody's focus and heats get underway within the first hour of action on Friday.

There will be particular attention on Gay, who has not raced since hurting a hamstring five weeks ago, but the American insists he is fully fit and raring to go.

"This is one of the hottest 100s in history, there hasn't been as much hype about it for a long time," he said.


Four years ago the first five men all dipped under 10 seconds for the first time and, with half-a-dozen contenders hoping to upset the big three, it could be even better this time.

"It's all about who runs the perfect race," said Bolt, who had only raced the distance a handful of times but set the world record of 9.72 in May.

Bolt should double up with the 200, though on the eve of the Games he was still refusing to confirm he will race the 100, and the long-striding Jamaican looks unstoppable over his preferred longer distance.

His Caribbean country is well represented in the women's sprints too, confirmed by the fact that 100 metres world champion Veronica Campbell-Brown could only finish fourth in a scorching qualifying competition.

Compatriots Kerron Stewart, Shelly-Ann Fraser and Sherone Simpson go up against American trio Muna Lee, Torri Edwards and Lauryn Williams.

Campbell-Brown gets her chance in the 200 in another great-looking race with American Allyson Felix.

Kenyan 18-year-old Pamela Jelimo has dominated the 800 metres and it will be interesting to see how she deals with the occasion, while Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, who set yet another world record last month, looks the most predictable gold medallist.

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