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Olympic athletes set to shine through smog, doping scandals

Beijing Games organisers will be hoping that the exciting crop of competitors in the blue riband event of athletics can dispel the sordid spectre of doping and provide a feast of top-class sport.

Certainly, there is a raft of big-name draw cards and record-breakers for whom the stage is set to shine, despite worries about pollution levels at a time when temperatures and humidity are expected to be sweltering.

Defending men’s 100m champion Justin Gatlin will not be one of them, however, after failing in his bid to overturn a ban for testing positive in a drugs test.

Doping returned yet again this year to cast its ugly shadow over athletics, with five-time Olympic medallist Marion Jones jailed and stripped of her medals for lying to investigators about her use of performance enhancing drugs.

In the same case, Dennis Mitchell, Antonio Pettigrew and Jerome Young, all former Olympic gold medal relay runners on US teams, each admitted doping on Jamaican-born coach Trevor Graham’s advice.

On Saturday, the International Olympic Committee stripped Pettigrew and Young, along with the Harrison brothers Calvin and Alvin, of their 4x400m relay gold from the 2000 Games. Also losing out will be Michael Johnson, the five-time Olympic champion and the only relay team member not linked to banned substance use.

In a hammer blow to Russian track and field medal hopes, athletics’ world governing body, the IAAF, on Thursday temporarily suspended seven top woman athletes for the suspected switching of urine samples in drug tests last year.

The athletes now not travelling to Beijing are include world indoor 1500m champion Yelena Soboleva, who has clocked the fastest times in the world this year over both 800m and 1500m, fellow middle distance runners Svetlana Cherkasova and Yulia Fomenko, former double world champion Tatyana Tomashova and Olga Yegorova.

Hammer thrower Gulfiya Khanafeyeva, a former world record holder, and reigning European discus champion Darya Pishchalnikova, were also named in the affair.

On the track, American double world sprint champion Tyson Gay will be under pressure from the Jamaican duo of Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell.

Bolt surprised everyone by breaking the 100m world record set by his compatriot, the 21-year-old running 9.72sec in New York on May 31. Powell rebounded to beat Bolt in last month’s meet in Stockholm - their last before the Olympics.

But after keeping observers on tenterhooks, Bolt will double up here. “He will run both,” his coach Glen Mills confirmed.

Another crowd-drawing race will be the men’s 110m hurdles. China will have defending Olympic champion Liu Xiang in the line-up, still smarting from losing his world record to Cuban rival Dayron Robles, who shaved one-hundredth off the previous record in clocking 12.87sec.

BEIJING, Monday, AFP

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