PARIS, France, August 5 – Athletics will be looking to Usain Bolt and Mo Farah to repeat their track exploits at last year’s Olympics and give the sport some much needed positive spin at the world championships when they get underway in Moscow next Saturday.
A combination of positive dope tests and injuries has deprived the championships of many of its’ most familiar names.
While injuries sees the likes of heptathlon Olympic champion Jessica Ennis-Hill, Kenya’s sublime men’s Olympic 800m champion David Rudisha and defending world 100m champion Yohan Blake miss out, doping has cast a huge cloud over the event.
Embarrassingly for the organisers is that the chief culprit is the host country Russia, who have over 40 athletes presently suspended over doping offences which had led some people to demand they be stripped of hosting the championships.
Valentin Balaknichev, president of the All-Russia Athletic Federation, hit back telling The Times last month that the accusations levelled at Russia came from historic distrust of the country.
“Older and current generations have a genetic failure of trust towards the Soviet Union and Russia,” said Balaknichev, who is also the treasurer of the sport’s global governing body the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF).
“This distrust has been inculcated during many decades. There are merits and demerits in every country. Russia is not an exception.”
Indeed since he uttered those words Turkey has been swept up in a doping scandal which led IAAF president Lamine Diack to suggest that unless the government became more proactive in the fight against doping it could cost Istanbul dearly in the race to host the 2020 Summer Olympics.
However, the spotlight switched away from Russia and Turkey onto the highest profile event of the sport the men’s 100 metres as two of the nearly men in terms of championship victories over the past decade, American Tyson Gay and Jamaica’s former world record holder Asafa Powell, failed dope tests.
Evidently their absences and that of Blake makes Bolt’s bid to regain his 100m title – which he lost when he was disqualified for a false start two years ago – that much easier but the double Olympic champion in the event and world record holder will also be bidding to restore some of the lustre to his country’s battered image.
For Powell joins an ever growing list of Jamaican sprinters – including two-time women’s Olympic 200m Veronica Cambell-Brown – that have failed dope tests.
Bolt, who turns 27 on August 21, says nobody should doubt him in terms of being clean.
“How long have you been following Usain Bolt?,” he said in late July.
“2008? If you’ve been following me since 2002 you know I’ve been doing phenomenal things since I was 15. I’ve broken every record there is to break.
“Right now I’m living out my dream. I’ve shown throughout the years I’ve always been great.”
The main concern for the amiable Jamaican heading into the championships is getting his start out of the blocks right – a bugbear that has dogged him throughout his career.
“I need to work with my coach and figure out how to be more explosive out of the blocks and not so slow,” said Bolt.
“But my coach tells me I am not a good starter anyway and just to focus on my running. I know what mistakes I made in the last world championships and executed the start very well in the Olympics.
“I am not worried because my mind set is always different and better come major championships. Maybe I will be back to my fastest and best by Moscow.”
Farah, whose double Olympic gold in the 5000m and 10000m last year deservedly shared the headlines with Bolt, has been in sparkling form this season.
Not only does he look odds on to repeat his double title win from last year but he also smashed British great Steve Cram’s 28-year-old British 1500m record in Monaco in a rare appearance in this event last month improving his previous best time over the distance by five seconds.
Somalia-born Farah, 30, admits that despite his great form he is not a shoo-in for the 5,000m and 10,000m double in Moscow.
“Of course, it is going to be very tough in the worlds,” he said.
“The competition will be fierce again, and I will need to be as good, if not better, than 12 months ago.”