Bolt, Gay in spotlight at track worlds
100-metre showdown is one of many intriguing storylines in Berlin
Tyson Gay, who served notice to world record-holder Usain Bolt last month with the fastest 100-metre run of 2009, might have had the odds tilted further in his favour when the world track and field championships began Saturday.
The much-anticipated matchup of sprint rivals could quickly turn into a pick 'em should a weekend forecast free of precipitation hold true in Berlin.
Bolt has run well in poor weather conditions ever since he blew away Gay in May 2008 (9.72 to 9.85) on a rainy night in New York at the Reebok Grand Prix, the last time they stood side by side in the starting blocks.
Last month, the lanky Jamaican speedster turned in an impressive 200-metre result in the rain at Switzerland, three days before Gay of the United States stopped the clock in 9.77 seconds at the Golden Gala track and field meet in Rome.
"They were expected to race [at the 2008 Summer Olympics] in Beijing but Gay got the [left] hamstring injury and never got to the final," said Mark Lee, who will call his first world championships for CBC Sports since 2001 in Edmonton.
"Here we are a year later and they've sort of dodged each other, setting fast times around the world but never together.
"Bolt has run in really bad conditions — rain and head winds — so people are looking at him and saying his races have been more impressive."
The best came on a dry night last Aug. 16 when Bolt ran an electrifying 9.69 to set a new world record and take Olympic gold before a crowd of 90,000 at Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing.
"Since then," Lee said, "people have come to think of him as invincible. You almost have to look at the guys running with him, behind him, to see how fast he's going. He has a nine-foot stride length.
"A tall, lanky guy [in Bolt] and a short, compact fireball in Gay, it'll be a great race to look at."
Gay's last victory against Bolt came in the 200 final at the 2007 worlds in Osaka, Japan.
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Whatever happened to ...
The mystery runner known as Pamela Jelimo of Kenya.
In her first international race last year, Jelimo came out of nowhere to finish within seven-tenths of a second of the world record in the 800 metres, a mark that has stood since the mid-1980s.
She went on to win the Golden League and $1 million before capturing Olympic gold in Beijing. But after placing sixth in her first race this season and second to last at another event in the United States, Jelimo's coaches pulled her off the circuit and brought her home. She hasn't raced in Europe this year.
"She's living a very quiet life in Kenya," said CBC Sports commentator Mark Lee of the 19-year-old athlete. "Pamela came from this quiet obscurity to the world stage and has disappeared again.
"She's never known adversity. That was always the question going into the Olympics. She had never been there before. It never seemed to affect her because she had no psychological baggage, and now she does.
"Pamela's had two big defeats and she'll be wondering what's wrong."
Can a return to quiet, high-altitude training in Kenya bring Jelimo game back at this year's worlds?
"She doesn't seem like someone who gets too wound up or nervous," Lee said.
Sunday's 100 semifinal and final are slated for 1:10 p.m. ET and 3:35 p.m. ET, respectively.
While the Bolt/Gay showdown is the featured event in the eyes of many at this year's worlds, there are plenty of others that should be hotly contested at Olympic Stadium.
Men's 400 — Americans LaShawn Merritt and Jeremy Wariner will resume one of the great track rivalries of today. Merritt easily beat Wariner, the defending Olympic champion, last year in Beijing with a personal best run of 43.75 seconds.
Men's 1,500 — Kenya has a chance to sweep the podium in Berlin, led by 2008 Olympic silver medallist Asbel Kipruto Kiprop. Together with Augustine Kiprono Choge and Haron Keitany, they are the top three runners in the world right now, Lee said.
Men's 5,000 — Ethiopian World record holder Kenenisa Bekele, 27, will attempt to extend his three-year unbeaten streak. He has won three Olympic golds and a total of 14 world titles in cross country and track. Bekele's victory at last year's Beijing's Games (12:57.82) broke a 24-year-old Olympic record by more than seven seconds.
Men's javelin — Reigning Olympic champion Andreas Thorkildsen of Norway arrives in Berlin as a clear favourite over rival and defending world champion Tero Pitkämäki of Norway. Winner of his last four competitions, Thorkildsen downed Pitkämäki with an 88.97-metre effort in June.
"Their head-to-head record is almost 50-50," Lee said. "This is one event that will captivate Scandinavia, for sure. These are the guys that throw the javelin 90 metres. It's like watching someone throw the length of a football field. It's quite a spectacle."
Women's 100 — With seven women under 11 seconds this year, it might be difficult to focus on just one. Leading the way is 2008 Olympic silver medallist Kerron Stewart of Jamaica. She caught the eyes of many recently at a Golden League event in Rome, where she ran 10.75 seconds to record to the fastest time since disgraced American sprinter Marion Jones clocked 10.70 nine years ago.
"She's a hundredth of a second off a Jamaican and Commonwealth record," Lee said, "which was set by [Jamaican-born] Merlene Ottey, one of the great legends of the sport."
Women's 5,000/10,000 — These events, which pit reigning Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba against defending world champion Meseret Defar, could also be dubbed "The Battle of the Ethopians."
Last year, Dibaba, the 2003 and 2005 world champion, broke Defar's world record in the 5,000 and bested her in both events at the Beijing Olympics. But she suffered an injury over the winter and has raced only twice this season.
Like Dibaba, DeFar has ambitions of winning both events in Berlin, but has never prevailed in the 10,000 at a major championship.
Women's high jump — It won't be hard to spot Ariane Friedrich, who will receive plenty of cheers from the hometown crowd in Berlin. She'll be the one sporting white knee-high socks, sunglasses and showing off her bleached platinum blonde hair. A real live wire, Friedrich can also jump, having upset reigning world champion Blanka Vlasic of Croatia two months ago at Berlin's Olympic Stadium.
Since last year's Golden League finale, the two have met five times, with the rising German star holding a 3-2 edge. Vlasic, though, is owner of seven of the season's 10 best leaps.