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Track and field's still the main event of the Games
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Despite the constant shadow of drugs, the track and field events remain the most eagerly anticipated among all sports at the Beijing Olympics.

Who cannot be thrilled at the prospect of seeing not one, not two, but three potential world record breakers in the blue-riband event, the men’s 100m sprint?

In Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell and Usain Bolt, one may very well see three sprinters running under 9.8sec.

It is a mind-boggling scenario that would have been impossible until nine years ago, when Maurice Greene first broke the barrier.

Who cannot be excited to see overwhelming favorite Liu Xiang facing his toughest opponent in Cuba’s Dayron Robles, in front of thousands of partisan fans willing him to win?

One can imagine the steel pylons of the Bird Nest Stadium vibrating to the roars of thousands of Chinese fans, should he successfully defend his 110m hurdles title.

Who cannot be salivating at seeing pole vault supremo Yelena Isinbayeva going for another world record?

Or long-distance king Kenenisa Bekele facing his former mentor Haile Gebrselassie in the 10,000m?

Or Paula Radcliffe finally clinching an Olympic gold in the women’s marathon?

The 2008 Beijing Olympics track and field competition could be filled with plenty of inspirational achievements. One hopes they will not be marred by unsavoury drug episodes like the previous two Olympics.

In the 2004 Athens Games, the withdrawals of Greek sprinters Konstantinos Kenteris and Katerina Thanou for failing to attend a dope test has left a bitter taste among the hosts.

The winner of the men’s 100m, Justin Gatlin, is now serving a four-year ban after testing positive for testosterone.

And who can forget the tears of 2000 Sydney Games icon Marion Jones, as she admitted last year that she had taken performance-enhancing drugs?

So it is not without a bit of cynicism that fans approach the athletics events.

However, until they are proven guilty, these athletes should give every Olympic fan reasons to cheer them on.


The United States has dominated the track and field events through the majority of Olympic history, but will that supremacy translate to another big summer at the Beijing Games?

The US has garnered a total of 713 track and field medals - more hardware than the next five biggest winners combined.

Yet, the rest of the world has made strides in many events recently, especially in the field events, where they have begun to dominate in the jumping events after years of controlling the throwing competitions.

In 2004, a group of young, relatively unknown Americans competed in track & field at the Olympic Games and although medal-count expectations were low, the group brought home 25 medals, the greatest medal tally in a decade.

As the reigning world champion in both the 100m and 200m, Tyson Gay was supposed to be competing for two individual medals in Beijing, but he suffered a mild hamstring strain in qualifying for the 200m and was not able to finish the race.

His main competition in the 100m will come from Jamaica, as both Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell try to grab gold. Bolt defeated Gay in a meet in New York on May 31, running the 100m in 9.72 seconds to break the world record held by Powell for nearly three years.

Usain Bolt of Jamaica crouches beside the new men's 100m world record he made at the Reebok Grand Prix meeting at Icahn Stadium in New York on Saturday, May 31, 2008. [Xinhua]

Usain Bolt of Jamaica crouches beside the new men's 100m world record he made at the Reebok Grand Prix meeting at Icahn Stadium in New York on Saturday, May 31, 2008. [Xinhua]

The US also has a healthy rivalry developing in the 400m between Jeremy Wariner and LaShawn Merritt, two of the top runners in the world at the distance. The runners finished 1-2 in last year’s world championships in Osaka and are hoping to repeat that success in Beijing.

The Americans can almost always be counted on to medal in the relay events as the rest of the world has a difficult time challenging the level of depth found on the US squad.

It is also expected to have a good shot at medals in the men’s distance category, now that Kenyan-born Bernard Lagat is competing for the Stars and Stripes. He won the 1,500m and 5,000m races at the 2007 world championships and will compete in both events in Beijing.

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