RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil, July 28 – World athletics is counting on Jamaican superstar and six-time Olympic gold medallist Usain Bolt to lead the sport out of its darkest hour amid doping and corruption scandals.
“I accept the man is a genius. He’s probably the most recognisable sportsman or woman on the planet. It’s a high-class problem. Many sports would really like to be discussing a Usain Bolt in their ranks: they don’t and they can’t,” said IAAF president Sebastian Coe who still believes that other track stars deserve the Rio spotlight.
Organised athletics can be traced back to the Ancient Olympic Games from 776 BC.
The rules and format of modern athletics events were defined in Western Europe and North America in the 19th and 20th century, and then spread to other parts of the world.
Athletics forms the backbone of the Summer Olympics after being first included in the first modern Olympic Games in 1896, with women allowed to compete from 1928.
Athletics is overseen by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), founded in 1912, which has been plunged into its worst crisis by doping and corruption scandals affecting several countries and former leaders.
“I feel the pain that we all feel at the moment because we love our sport. It’s been painful to see where our sport is at the moment in public perception,” IAAF president Sebastian Coe told AFP recently.
“Citius, altius, fortius” – “faster, higher, stronger”, the Olympic ethos perfectly summing up athletics, which will feature 47 events (24 for men, 23 for women – they skip the 50km race walk) from the blue riband 100m to the marathon.
Running from August 12-21, track and field will feature 2,000 athletes (1,100 men and 900 women), each country limited to three athletes for individual events and a maximum of six for the relays.
The venue is the revamped 47,000-capacity Olympic Stadium, while the marathon will finish at the Sambodrome and the race walks take place alongside the Pontal beach.
Aside from Bolt, much attention will be on any Russian athletes who manage to get to Rio. Doping cheat 800m runner turned-whistleblower Yuliya Stepanova had hoped to compete as a neutral after being accepted by the IAAF.
But the IOC has said the Olympic Charter does not allow such a gesture even if they have invited Stepanova and her husband to Rio.
Stepanova said the IOC decision was “unfair” and would put off future whistleblowers. US-based Russian long jumper Dariya Klishina has been cleared to compete.