World Athletics Championship 2011: Key races to look out for.

Athletics is back on our screens again as the World Athletics Championship kicks off in Daegu, South Korea. The 13th edition of the track and field special is scheduled to take place from 27th August to 4th September in the environment-conscious Korean city. With 1945 athletic stars representing 206 countries, the event will be beamed live to over 200 countries.

Despite such extensive participation across several disciplines, some races stand out from the rest with athletics enthusiasts eagerly awaiting the certain drama that accompanies these showdown races. The four races below will likely offer the greatest entertainment in this bi-annual event.

Men’s 100m

The obvious attraction in any athletics meet, the 100m has taken special significance since the entry of Usain Bolt into the scene. Arguably the world’s most famous sportsman, the flamboyant Jamaican has taken the race and athletics as a whole by storm, obliterating opponents and records along the way. Still only 25 years of age, Bolt is looking to add to the 100m and 200m double from Berlin as he prepares for what he views as the most important event of his career, the London Olympics next summer. “I’m working my way up to the Olympic season, to being fit and ready then. London is the key,” Bolt said in a recent interview.

The hype that accompanied the build up to the championship has subsided over the last few weeks though, with the withdrawal of likely challengers to Bolt’s supremacy either through drug bans or injury. Jamaican Steve Mullings with the 3rd fastest time of the year (9.80 secs) and American Mike Rodgers at 4th with 9.85 have both been banned after failing doping tests. To complicate matters farther, the world’s fastest man in 2011, Jamaican Asafa Powell pulled out at the eleventh hour with a groin injury, joining Tyson Gay in the sidelines who was ruled out earlier due to a hip problem.

The withdrawals have left a clear path to victory for Bolt while also opening the door for some also rans to claim a podium place. Most notable of them is the 2005 world champion and former world record holder Justin Gatlin of the US. The former poster boy of sprint athletics is back from the cold after a four year absence following a doping ban. The 29 year old former Athens gold medalist will be battling it out with veteran Briton Dwain Chambers and Jamaican Michael Frater for the silver and bronze medals.

110m Hurdles Men

With the 100 m watered down due to several withdrawals, the 110m is now the highlight sprint event of the Daegu championships with the three fastest people ever in the event likely to meet up in the finals.

Former professional American football player David Oliver takes a personal best 12.89 seconds into the Daegu meet, posing a challenge to the two rivals who’ve dominated the event between them over the last few years. Dayron Robles Robles of Cuba is the 2008 Olympic champion and world record holder at 12.87 seconds. The 2004 Olympic and 2007 world champion Liu Xiang of China has run 12.88 seconds and is the previous world record holder.

This will be the first time that all three meet on the big stage and, barring a disaster in the heats, the final on Monday will be the main attraction of the championships. Oliver has a physical frame that enables him to knock hurdles out of his way with ease while Liu is a determined character with a terrific burst of pace in the last fifteen meters. Of the three, Cuban Robles is probably the most technically sound of the trio and with the world record, will have a psychological boost over his two challengers. The world record is definitely under threat in this technical sprint race.

Men’s 800m

Multiple world record holder and African champion David Rudisha comes into this championship as the clear favorite following his unstoppable form in the middle distance sprint race over the last year. With a world leading time of 1.42.61 secs, Rudisha has been dominant over the two laps ever since the sensational fete of breaking the long standing record of Dane Wilson Kipketer twice in the space of eight days in 2010.

Sudanese rival Abubakar Kaki will be his likely challenger with the two men taking their long standing rivalry from junior races into the world championship. The diminutive 2007 world champion and 2009 silver medalist Alfred Kirwa Yego will also be a force to contend with, with the three Africans likely to take the medals. Yuriy Borzakovskiy of Russia is also one to watch out for as his 2004 Olympic win showed his ability at the big stage.

Lacking a senior title at this event, the buccaneering Rudisha will see this as his best chance of claiming a maiden gold medal and if pushed, he will likely have a go at his own world record.

Women’s 200m

The 200 m women race promises to be an epic showdown with long term rivals Allyson Felix and Veronica Campbell Brown squaring it out once more at the world stage. Three time champion Felix has the edge over her rival Brown in the worlds but lost out to her in the Beijing Olympics. The race is sure to have added spice following the emergence of sprint sensation Carmelitta Jeter. Arguably the hottest sprinter this year, Jeter has shown tremendous pace over the 100m sprint and will give the two rivals something to ponder about.

Outlook for Kenya

Coming off the back of an impressive showing in Berlin 09, the Kenyan team will be looking to go one better than the third place finish last time out. The obvious medal hope for Kenya will be Rudisha in the 800m race. Olympic champion Asbel Kiprop will be looking to lead his compatriots Daniel Komen and world leader Silas Kiplagat to a clean medal sweep in the mile.

The 3000 m steeplechase is traditionally a Kenyan affair and no threat to this monopoly is expected from any quarters. Captain Richard Mateelong will lead world champion Ezekiel Kemboi and the fastest man this year Brimin Kipruto in an in-house chase for the gold. Kipruto goes into the race on the back of an impressive showing that saw him miss the world record by 0.01 secs in Monaco last month.

The marathon will miss the presence of fallen hero Samuel Wanjiru who died in mysterious circumstances earlier this year. In his absence, Abel Kirui will lead the Kenyan charge with Paris marathon champion Benjamin Kiptoo looking good over the 42km race.

On the women’s side, Vivian Cheruyiot is the favorite in the 5000 meters where she will face off with compatriot Linet Masai and Ethiopian Meseret Defar. With a strong kick, Vivian beat the fancied Ethiopian last time round in Berlin and will be looking to continue her good recent form while also trying her hand at the 10km race or the first time.

With new stars being born in every championship as old luminaries’ fall, the 2011 world championship promises to be an exciting event in the athletics calendar. David Rudisha, Carmelita Jeter and Brit Mo Farah are likely to be new world stars if they live up to their potential while the boastful Bolt will sure light up our screens. A mixture of newbies elbowing their ways to the finish line, tarnished stars attempting to re-ignite their careers, old rivalries being renewed and existing stars looking to assert their dominance, the championship will be one to remember in years to come.

As the Koreans would put it, you will rove the laces. Enjoy

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