Athletics: Gatlin double main course at Finnish feast
Saturday 06 August 2005
By the time competition starts, about 350 athletes will have undergone blood tests and 500 more will be carried out by the sport's world governing body before the closing ceremony next Sunday.
But as the struggle to preserve the purity of athletics carries on in the background, a gathering of athletes which includes 32 Olympic champions is preparing to submit itself to the world's gaze, with television pictures being transmitted to a record 192 countries.
By the time the last image vanishes from all those screens, a number of outstanding performers will have embellished their reputations by their deeds in the Finnish capital, and none more so than those attempting "doubles".
Britain's one shining hope for gold - and the British have not won more than one at any World Championships since Linford Christie, Colin Jackson and Sally Gunnell triumphed in Stuttgart 12 years ago - is Paula Radcliffe. And despite everything she has said about only entering today's 10,000m to get in shape for tomorrow week's marathon, she has also went on record last month saying that when she goes into any race she tries to win it.
Given the opposition, Radcliffe will do very well to get a medal on the track, although she is a clear favourite for the marathon, given that she has run five minutes faster than any other entrant this year. That kind of margin should work in her favour now that she is operating in conditions where distance running appears a sane activity - as opposed to what went on in the killing heat of Athens last summer. Always assuming that she has been helped rather than hindered by her earlier track run, of course.
Radcliffe's strongest opponent in the 10,000m, Tirunesh Dibaba, also has her eyes on more than one prize. The 19-year-old Ethiopian wants to match her achievement of winning both short and long World Cross Country titles in March by completing a 5,000m and 10,000m double, and has announced that she is ready to make history.
Her compatriot Kenenisa Bekele appears less ready, having distanced himself yesterday from his stated aim of completing his own 5,000m and 10,000m double. According to his agent, Jos Hermens, Bekele risks ruining the rest of his season if he runs both events. But the Ethiopian federation, which put its foot down to ensure Haile Gebrselassie competed in last year's Olympic 10,000m final despite an injury, may yet lean on him.
The Olympic 100m champion, Justin Gatlin, is seeking to replicate the feat he achieved at this year's US Championships by taking the 100m and 200m titles. Gatlin's chances of securing victory in the shorter distance rose sharply with the news that Jamaica's world record holder, Asafa Powell, who collapsed with a groin injury soon after the start of last month's London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace, would not be fit to compete.
It would be nice - for Britain at any rate - to think that one of the trio who helped earn the Olympic sprint relay title last summer might reach the final. Mark Lewis-Francis, Jason Gardener and Marlon Devonish have all been going well in training, but their most realistic hope of a medal resides in the relay. They will be hoping that their efforts there will be supplemented by the arrival this weekend of the 200m specialist Christian Malcolm, who has been receiving treatment for a pelvic tilt problem. They may also be able to call upon Chris Lambert, even though he pulled out of the 200m yesterday.
"Everybody is going to go out there and do their best and I think we're going to surprise a few people," Radcliffe said of her team's prospects yesterday. More than a couple of medals would be a surprise.
Britain's other most obvious medal prospects reside in both 400m relays, the triple jump, where Nathan Douglas is third in the world rankings, the 400m, where Tim Benjamin's recent clocking of 44.75sec has elevated him to world-class status, and the heptathlon, where the Olympic bronze medallist Kelly Sotherton is looking buoyant despite having failed to master the javelin.
She will need to be at the top of her game to match her showing in Athens, however, as the defending champion, Carolina Kluft, and Eunice Barber prepare to engage in what promises to be one of the confrontations of the week.
The 22-year-old Swede became only the third woman to amass more than 7,000 points as she defeated Barber on her home territory in Paris two years ago. But Barber, who scored a personal best of 6,889 points earlier this summer, is determined to regain the title she beat Denise Lewis to in 1999.
"I'm ready to score 7,000 points," said Barber. "I am back. I have found the competitive spirit again."
A new generation of female American sprinters is preparing to announce itself. With Marion Jones in decline and Kelli White and Torri Edwards banned for doping offences, the Olympic 200m silver medallist Allyson Felix, 19, and 400m runner Sanya Richards, 20, have their chance to shine.
Bonuses of $100,000 (£57,000) await anyone setting a world record. That might just be of interest to the Olympic women's pole vault champion, Russia's Yelena Isinbayeva, who edged her personal best up to the landmark of five metres at Crystal Palace last month. For her 18th world record, what price 5.01m?
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