Beginning this Saturday, August 10, the 2013 IAAF World Outdoor Track and Field Championships get underway in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium. Nine days of world-class action will follow through August 18.
Athletes from 206 countries will converge on the old stadium to determine individual world champions in the ultimate biennial competition devoted exclusively to track and field.
For Team USA, it will be the first occasion to collectively set foot inside Luzhniki Stadium since the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
And though much has changed since the icy tensions of those Cold War days, the strong USA-Russia rivalry within the sport (albeit, a bit warmer these days) has not dissipated over the years, and it is likely to come into play in Moscow.
In the interim, the rest of the world has rapidly gained on the two former superpowers. In team competition, Kenya, Jamaica, Germany, Ethiopia and Great Britain, for example, have laid claim as legitimate contenders.
The post-Olympic year of 2013 has been a surprisingly good one—in terms of performance. But a recent rash of injuries and a slew of high-profile positive drug screenings have covered the latter portion of the season like a wet blanket.
The two superstars of the 2012 London Olympics, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and British distance runner Mo Farah, will be leaned on heavily to re-ignite the once-hot embers of the early season. Bolt will be looking for (and probably finding) another triple-gold jackpot in the 100-meter dash, 200-meter dash and 4X100-meter relay.
With primary rivals Tyson Gay (drugs), Yohan Blake (injury) and Asafa Powell (drugs) missing in action, Bolt should cruise. But hopefully he will go full throttle. The sport could use a jolt or two of Bolt's electricity.
Farah has taken the 5,000- and 10,000-meter mantle from Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele and appears to have no intention of giving it up. He is favored to repeat his Olympic double-gold heroics—but this time without the aid of the memorable home-field dramatics in London's Olympic Stadium.
Speaking of home dramatics, perhaps the host athletes and crowd can provide the elixir the sport so desperately needs. There are several Russian storylines woven into the 2013 Worlds, and in several instances, American athletes are poised to fuel the old rivalry.
Russian pole vault queen Yelena Isinbayeva, long dominant in her prime, is talking of a swan song performance in Moscow. She wants to go out with one final gold medal, but an American, Jenn Suhr, and a Cuban, Yarisley Silva, have designs on an overthrow. Earlier in the year Suhr breached Isi's indoor world record with a vault of 16 feet, 5.5 inches.
In another possible home crowd-pleaser, Russian spearman, Dmitriy Tarabin—who launched a world-leading throw of 291'-5" in his recent national championships—could wrest the honors from the Scandanavian javelin kings.
And with Mariya Abakumova already leading the world in the women's javelin (by nearly two meters at 227'-6"), Russia stands a good chance of gaining a rare double-gold in a single discipline.
Yet one more delectable USA-Russia faceoff could come in the women's high jump where Brigetta Barrett and Anna Chicherova will be probable finalists. The two are currently one-two in the world.
The most likely chances of a new world record will, of course, come from any race featuring Bolt.
But watch for American 100-meter hurdler Brianna Rollins, who has exploded on the scene this year. Her new American record (12.26) is just off the 25-year-old world standard of 12.21. The American hurdles team is loaded with four of the top five hurdlers, and with defending champion Sally Pearson of Australia in the mix, the 100 hurdles final could be a screamer.
In the men's high jump, the once-untouchable world record (8'0.5") of Cuba's Javier Sotomayor suddenly seems approachable. For the first time in years, two jumpers having a great year seem to have a shot.
Bohdan Bondarenko (7'10.75") of the Ukraine and Qatar's Mutaz Essa Barshim (7'10.25") have been jumping lights-out all year. Canada's Derek Drouin and American Erik Kynard have also been jumping well and could force the issue.
Young U.S. decathlete Ashton Eaton, like Bolt, is a proven big-meet performer and could unseat defending champion and teammate Trey Hardee. The trophy would fit nicely between his Olympic gold medal and world-record medallion.
On the American roster, youth will add an element of intrigue in Moscow. Keep your eyes peeled for names like English Gardner and Octavious Freeman (women's 100), Kimberlyn Duncan (women's 200), Arman Hall (men's 400), Ajee Wilson (women's 800) and Mary Cain (women's 1,500).
Just for fun, in my daily column, I will be keeping a running score based on an 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 scoring system for the first through eighth places—similar to an NCAA-scored meet. This will help me analyze trends, team depth and give credit to worthy non-podium performances—things a simple medal count can't reveal.
Bookmark our track and field homepage for daily updates during the meet. I'll be here with scores, analysis and more. Enjoy the World Championships.
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