Sat, Sep 09, 2006 - Page 19 News List

Athletes have last shot at rescuing tainted season

WORLD FINAL In the wake of the year's string of doping scandals, athletes will be able to show what they're made of and cash in on the event's US$3 million in prize money


The likes of Asafa Powell and pole-vault queen Yelena Isinbayeva have one last shot this weekend at rubbing some of the dirt off a doping-tainted season.

World and Olympic champions and the year's top performers will gather for the World Athletics Final, a two-day meet centered on extending unbeaten streaks, setting world records, and giving the best athletes a big payday.

The US$3 million weekend purse will reward anyone setting a world record with US$130,000. Victory alone will earn US$30,000. Organizers say they are still on course to attract 60,000 spectators at the Gottlieb-Daimler Stadium, which has taken over from Monaco as competition host.

As usual, all eyes will be on Jamaican Powell today when he lines up for one of his last 100 meters of the year.

He twice equaled his mark of 9.77 seconds and won all six Golden League meetings this season to remain unbeaten this year.

A duel with world and Olympic champion Justin Gatlin was supposed to provide the highlight of the season, but the American was caught doping this spring and faces an eight-year ban. The world record he shares with Powell is bound to be stripped over the coming months.

It has left Powell with only a record time to chase and few doubt he can do it. Early in the season, he had some trouble dipping at the line and some bad starts later but he has the class and skills to put a full flawless race together.

After Gatlin's positive doping test, an initial test indicated Marion Jones also tested positive, which threw the sport into chaos. Late on Wednesday, though, a second sample of the test cleared the former Olympic and world champion sprinter. Her coach said Jones wasn't expecting to compete again this year.

Powell won't be the only athlete capable of setting a world record this weekend.

The final could take a spectacular start when Tatyana Lysenko enters the throwing circle for the hammer throw. She already set two world records this year. Fellow Russian Gulfiya Khanafeyeva briefly held the mark but Lysenko, who has a build more reminiscent of a high jumper than a hammer thrower, won it back with a heave of 77.80 meters.

After a tiring season, few count on long-distance runners to set records, even if Ethiopians are continuing their dominance. World and Olympic champ Kenenisa Bekele has overcome an early season lapse to be his overpowering self again. In the women's races however, it has been a much tougher battle between world champ Tirunesh Dibaba and Olympic champion Meseret Defar in the 5,000m.

Defar set a world record early this season, before Dibaba started to dominate the Golden League meets. With a sweep of all six races beckoning plus the biggest share of the US$1 million jackpot, Defar outkicked her compatriot in the sprint of the concluding ISTAF meet to slice about US$125,000 off Dibaba's hoped-for payout.

Few know what Liu Xiang will have in store after spending most of the season training in China. When he came to Lausanne, Switzerland, in July though, the Olympic champ set a world record of 12.88 in the 110m hurdles. US veteran Allen Johnson lost the early part of his season to injury but has come back strongly, even winning the prestigious Weltklasse Golden League meeting in Zurich last month.

When it comes to consistency, few can match US 400m runner Jeremy Wariner. The Olympic champ is probably not up yet to challenge the world record of his mentor Michael Johnson, but a spotless season is a challenge in itself.

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