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Back to Bird's Nest

Athletics : Rocked by doping allegations, the sport will look for redemption at the Beijing World Championships

Back to Bird's Nest

Who used drugs in which event, why, where and how? In the near future, tales in the track and field arena will have to be written to toe the lines of a crime story. Dope and all the murky happenings behind the scenes, sadly, have cast a cloud like never before over the sport’s biggest showpiece, the World Championships, starting in Beijing five days from now.

On one side, preparations are on in full swing while on the other, firefighting operations have taken centrestage.

As hundreds of athletes flock the Bird’s Nest -- hosting its first major event since the 2008 Olympic Games -- fans of the sport are caught in two minds. What is the true worth of a performance seen and enjoyed on the ground or on television? With the International Association of Athletics Federations digging deep to punish violators even from ten years ago, there is no assurance that the champions of today won’t be shown up as cheats some day in the future.

 As such, even genuine performers do not escape the eye of the cynic but that is the burden they have to live with as they vie for the top spot in front of a global audience, in the coming week.

The duel between  Jamaican ace Usain Bolt and  American Justin Gatlin has already been projected as the ultimate Good vs Evil contest. In the shadow of that giant sprint showdown, several competitors who have affirmed their class with spectacular performances in recent times will hope to earn a slice of the spotlight.

In the build-up to track and field’s big week, here’s a look at a few of them who are eager to prove a point or two at the Bird’s Nest.

Chance to live up to a great name

Sister of the great Tirunesh, Genzebe is set to conquer outdoors

Born into athletics royalty in Ethiopia, middle distance runner Genzebe Dibaba is poised to win more glory for her illustrious family at the World Championships after years of indoor supremacy.

The younger sister of three-time Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba and Ejegayehu Dibaba, who won the 10,000M silver at the 2004 Athens Games, Genzebe stormed to a 1,500 metres world record at Monaco last month, eclipsing a 22-year-old mark that many thought might stand forever.

The dazzling run added to her four indoor world records, having set new marks in the 1,500M, 3,000M and two-mile events in an astonishing 15-day tour of Europe last year before adding the 5,000M in February.

Already boasting two world indoor titles, the Laureus sportswoman of the year would seem a certainty to finally clinch a long-awaited outdoor title, having long failed to meet expectations without a roof above her head.

Dibaba won her first world indoor title in 2012, with victory in the 1,500 at Istanbul, but has had more humble results outdoors and finished eighth in the final at the 2013 World Championships.

"I wanted to train more for the outdoor season than the indoor season, so I changed my training totally," Dibaba, 24, said prior to her record-setting win at Monaco.

"I already have natural speed which I don't need to work on, so in training I've been working more on my endurance. Now I think I can run faster outdoors than I previously thought I was capable of."

Like her champion sisters, Dibaba was born in Bekoji, a small town in the Ethiopian highlands which has produced more Olympic medal-winning performances than many countries combined.

She has taken to training with her male compatriots, given there are few women on the planet that can keep up with her.

She needed to draft in American 800M indoor world champion Chanelle Price to be a pacemaker for the first half of her record-breaking run at Monaco.

"I have been dreaming of an outdoor world record for ever," Dibaba said after the race. "Now I want them all: the 1500, the 5000, even the 800."

Claiming the 5,000 record would mean improving upon sister Tirunesh's mark of 14 minutes 11.15 seconds, which was set at Oslo in 2008.

Genzebe ran a personal best of 14:15.41 in Paris last month but a cat-and-mouse race with compatriot Almaz Ayana, who owns the year's best time of 14:14.32, put paid to a record attempt.

Dibaba has entered in both the 1,500 and 5,000 at Beijing but may pick one or the other. Either way, she will not be satisfied with anything less than gold. "Everybody expects me to win the gold medal," she said.

"I have to do it, especially after what my sister has achieved. I have to do the same, if not better." 

Tirunesh was an outstanding performer for Ethiopia in previous World Championships, often warding off the threats from the Kenyans singlehandedly, with fabulous bursts of speed in the last lap.

During her world record-setting run in Monaco in the 1500 metres, Genzebe showed she too had the speed to demoralise her rivals. In Beijing, she will be hoping to write her own piece of history.

Ready to lord over Beijing skies

Overcoming mid-season blues in time, Lavillenie eyes his first world title

Renaud Lavillenie appears to have overcome a mid-season wobble and is hitting the heights just in time for his bid to complete a collection of major pole vault titles in Beijing.

The high-flying Frenchman holds the world record after clearing 6.16 metres last year and victory in China would add to his Olympic and world indoor titles as well as the European indoor and outdoor crowns he also owns.

However, The 28-year-old suffered a recent blip in his buildup to Beijing, falling to rare back-to-back defeats in Paris and Lausanne last month as he looked vulnerable for the first time since his failure at the 2013 World Championships.

Despite the setbacks, the dominant force in the discipline since soaring to the Olympic title in London three years ago was not unduly concerned.

"Let's not forget it is pole vaulting and it is not out of the ordinary to fail in a competition," he said.

"Last season, I was able to win the Paris meeting with 5.70M. This year, I'm fifth with the same performance."

While his Paris (5.76M) mark was seriously below par, Lavillenie blamed his poor result in Lausanne (5.71M) on a late gust of wind and promised to show what he was capable of in the ensuing French championships, which he won comfortably.

It was against improved competition that 'Air Lavillenie' really hit his mark, however, clearing the bar at 6.03M at the London Diamond League meeting last month.
"I know I'm able to clear 6.10-6.15 metres this summer," he warned.

Lavillenie had already achieved what remains the leading jump of the year and his own best outdoors by clearing 6.05M in Eugene in May before suffering consecutive defeats for the first time in two years.

Victories since at the French championships in Monaco and London have fully restored the confidence of a man who won world bronze in 2009 and 2011 and silver in Moscow two years ago. "It gives me all the confidence I need before the World Championships," said Lavillenie, whose younger brother and fellow vaulter Valentin will miss the trip to Beijing because of a fractured hand.

"I'm not driven by the desire to become a champion, just by a passion for pole vaulting," Lavillenie said of a family tradition that was started by his grandfather and has continued through each generation since.

Jean Galfione, who won Olympic gold for France in Atlanta in 1996 but never claimed a world title, believes Lavillenie can keep going higher. "He's not the strongest, not the tallest, not the fastest, but with a pole in his hands, he becomes strong," he said. "He is amazing, he is one of those guys you cannot set limits to."

Four faces to follow in Beijing

NIJEL AMOS (Botswana, 800M): With Olympic champion David Rudisha still not back at his imposing best after an injury-disrupted couple of years, Amos has his best chance of winning a first major title in Beijing. Still only 21, Amos's gait is all arms and legs where Rudisha's is smooth power but, with head back and teeth gritted, he has the finishing pace to run down most of his rivals on the home straight.

PEDRO PABLO PICHARDO (Cuba, triple jump): With seven of the top 10 jumps of the year, including the top two, the 22-year-old former world junior champion looks set to vie with Olympic champion Christian Taylor, who owns the other three, for gold in Beijing. Pichardo managed his first two jumps over 18 metres -- 18.06 in Doha and 18.08 in Havana -- over two weeks in May, which took him to third on the all time list behind  Britain's Jonathan Edwards andAmerican Kenny Harrison. If he improves at the same rate, he can very well eye the world record of 18.29M.

DAFNE SCHIPPERS (Netherlands, 100 & 200: A bronze medallist in the heptathlon at the last World Championships, Schippers has ditched the multi-discipline event to focus on the sprints from this season. The 23-year-old swept both sprint titles at the European championships last year and has posted some impressive times this season, particularly in the 200 metres.

SHAUNAE MILLER (Bahamas, 200 and 400): Miller finished fourth in 200 metres as a teenager at the last World Championships in Moscow and will be disappointed to return from Beijing without a medal even if she decides to focus solely on the 400M. The 21-year-old is a a former world youth and junior champion in the one-lap race.

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