Athletics: Fredericks aims to dismay rivals

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ALL EYES will be on Namibia's Frankie Fredericks today as the Middle East's first grand prix gets underway. The 31-year-old has become the main attraction in Qatar after producing the fastest 200 metres for nearly two years in Japan on Saturday.

His time of 19.87sec is a daunting target for his younger rivals, including Trinidad's reigning world champion Ato Boldon, and gives notice that he will be in contention to regain the World Championship later this summer.

Fredericks is determined to rid himself of the nearly-man tag that has dogged his career - he has won seven Olympic or World Championship silver medals, but his 1993 World Championship 200m victory remains his only gold medal on a global stage - and the Doha meeting provides excellent practice ahead of the Seville World Championships in August.

"I'm not just here for the money. Athletics is about pride and I want to run very fast here. The times I've run this year show that I am good shape," Fredericks said. "Whether I will run fast depends on a lot of factors but I'll be giving it my best effort," he added.

A meeting budget of $750,000 (pounds 463,000) has helped attract Fredericks and athletes from 39 other countries to Qatar. Other names to make the trip to the Gulf state include the German discus thrower Lars Riedal and the Norwegian high-jumper Hanne Haugland, both reigning world champions.

The 3,000 metres steeplechase will also be of interest as the Kenyan duo of Mathew Birir and Joseph Keter, the 1992 and 1996 Olympic champions respectively, will both be competing.

The meeting is part of a sustained campaign by the Qatari sports authorities to raise the profile of sport in the state. Athletics forms a pivotal part of their plans and the meeting has been given the fast track to grand prix status this year, by the International Amateur Athletic Federation, after only three years in existence.

The success of the meeting despite its relative infancy has meant that a bid for the 2000 Grand Prix final has been encouraged by the IAAF, although sources close to the Qatari federation say that they are balking at the $5m (pounds 3m) being asked by the IAAF for the right to stage the event.

Not everything has been blooming in the desert, though. The Qatari National Olympic Committee said yesterday that they had pulled out as hosts of the West Asian Games, due to be scheduled in the country in November, because they were behind with the construction of the swimming pool and the Games village.

However, the QNOC announced that their bid to stage the 2006 Asian Games remains intact.