30 MAY 2012 Preview Rome, Italy

Dozen World champions descend upon Rome, Bolt going for fast 100m time - PREVIEW - Samsung Diamond League

 Usain Bolt of Jamaica celebrates victory and a new world record in the men's 4x100 metres relay final  (Getty Images) Usain Bolt of Jamaica celebrates victory and a new world record in the men's 4x100 metres relay final (Getty Images) © Copyright
The appearance of the world's fastest man Usain Bolt and some innovative marketing of the Compeed Golden Gala meeting in Rome saw attendance figures rise to an outstanding 47,732 a year ago, with another big crowd forecast for Thursday's meeting.

The same organising team are equally confident when Bolt and other world class stars return to the Italian capital for the third Samsung Diamond League meet of 2012 and first on European soil, it will again match the accolades it fully deserved on that occasion.

Bolt, who is globally loved for his interaction with fans of all ages before and after all his races will again hold centre stage but 10 other reigning World champions competing should also ensure the audience will again witness an equally high quality event.

Daegu gold medallists David Greene, Ezekiel Kemboi, Jesse Williams, Pawel Wojciechowski, Mariya Savinova, Vivian Cheruiyot, Lashinda Demus, Olha Saladuha, Valerie Adams and Maria Abakumova will be aiming to extend their ascendancy over their main rivals before the fast approaching Olympic Games. [NOTE 10 am CET, 31 May: Robert Harting, the World champion in the Discus Throw, previously entered, has withdrawn).

All eyes on Bolt in repeat of 2011 race

But all eyes are on Bolt who a year ago clocked 9.91 in a mouth watering duel, and drawing on hidden reserves of energy after a sluggish start, edged ahead of Asafa Powell (9.93) with Christophe Lemaitre finishing third (10.00).

Powell, his fellow Jamaican and predecessor as World 100m record holder whose consistency saw him crowned 2011 SDL overall champion, and LeMaitre the European champion from France, are both returning - the former for a ninth occasion - to try and fetch their 6ft 5in rival down to size.

Two other gifted Caribbean sprinters, Kim Collins the 1993 World gold medallist who snatched another bronze at last year's World Championships and Lerone Clarke, another fast improving Jamaican sprinter, will also be aiming to show Bolt is not invincible.

Bolt is however confident despite a disappointing performance in Ostrava where he ran outside 10 seconds for the first time in three years, and said he will cope with opponents itching to inflict an early season defeat upon him.

"I've explained that everybody has bad races, it’s just one of those things in track and field," Bolt said. "You can't come out every day and win every race, and you can’t come out and run fast very day."

"We are humans and we have off races and it’s just one of those things. It happens in basketball and baseball and it happens to athletes. I’m never worried because at the end of the day it’s all about the championships."

"I’ve set a high standard and people expect you to do certain things. For me, all I’ve got to do is to continue running fast. I know I’ll have bad races but I’ve got to stay focused on my goal."

"For me, that was just one of my bad races. I have to put that behind me and just move on. For me, it’s not a worry. I have a lot more races to run."

Bolt of his SDL seasonal debut, added: "I definitely want to win but for me it's all about execution too. Getting my start right consistently. Let my coach analyse the race so he can see what I need to do to move forward.

This year's world leader with a mark of 9.82,  insisted: "Pretty much execution and a win. A fast time would be very nice too."

The World record holder, refusing to be drawn on how quickly he will perform, said:  "People said I said I would run 9.7 in Ostrava. What I said was I wanted to run 9.7 because I ran 9.8 in Jamaica. I always love to run fast and was trying to keep the momentum going."

Kemboi to face world leader Koech, meet record a strong possibility

The 3000m Steeplechase will see ever consistent 2004 Olympic champion Kemboi, who after playing second fiddle to fellow Kenyan Paul Koech the overall winner in their 2011 SDL confrontations, come up trumps to win the gold medal when retaining his World Championships crown.

Their intense rivalry will resume on Thursday with Kemboi opening his season against his great rival who at the SDL fixture in Doha showed he is already in phenomenal form when winning in a world leading of 7:56.58.

The duo's presence definitely suggests Saeed Saif Shaheen's seven-year-old meet record of 7:56.34 could be threatened while Frenchman Mahiedine Mekhissi Benabbad, who took the bronze medal behind Kemboi and Brimin Kipruto - who has yet to open his summer campaign - in Daegu, will be aiming to be in the mix.

Greene faces tough task

Greene started his campaign to win an Olympic 400m Hurdles gold medal with a very close defeat at the hands of 2004 champion Felix Sanchez in Rabat on Sunday and the opposition he faces in the 1960 Olympic Stadium will be even tougher.

Daegu silver and bronze medallists Javier Culson - world leader with a time of 48.00 - and LJ. van Zyl who were overtaken in the final 10 metres by the Briton will be determined to pressure him in the first of their confrontations before the London Games Track and Field programme gets underway on 3 August.

Probably even more determined will be the USA's Olympic bronze medallist Bershawn Jackson who was devastated at finishing sixth on that occasion and is determined to regain his status. Wth a 48.20 best under his belt already this campaign he now intends sending out a further message he is returning.
 
Diamond Trophy winners showcase on the infield

Williams will be chasing another SDL High Jump crown and will be thirsting for revenge against Dimitrios Chondrokoukis who pushed him into second place by two centimetres in Doha when the Greek equalled his outdoor personal best of 2.32.

Russia's Ivan Ukhov, the inaugural SDL winner and at his best a 2.40m jumper indoors and 2.36m outdoors, is another eager to restore his reputation after a disappointing World Championships where he was sixth. Daegu silver and bronze medallists Aleksey Dmitrik and Trevor Barry also compete.

Polish record holder Wojciechowski after his surprise World Championships victory faces the man fancied to win on that occasion Renaud Lavillenie who had to settle for third. The Frenchman vaulted 5.90 for a world lead in Ostrava last Friday and could have a genuine shot at Sergey Bubka's meet record of 5.94m set way back in 1984.

There will be plenty of interest to see whether Australia's Olympic champion Steve Hooker has regained his appetite after a couple of miserable years since his 2009 World success in Berlin and the embarrassment of bombing out without making a height in Korea.

Harting a two-time World discus gold medallist is currently in mint condition having thrown a mighty world lead of 70.66 last week in Turnov and the field really does have an Olympic final look about it.

Every man who matters including, Gerd Kanter and Ehsan Hadadi the other podium finishers behind Harting in Daegu, are in the line up along with Virgilius Alekna, possibly the greatest of all-time. The Lithuanian legend may now be 40 years old but continues to stretch his younger rivals in every competition.

A big incentive for Alekna will be claiming another Diamond Trophy but with Piotr Malachowski, the reigning European champion, joining the stellar line up it really is a wide open contest.

Fireworks forecast in women's 800 and 5000m races
 
Savinova can expect fireworks in her 800m encounter against 2008 Olympic gold medallist Pamela Jelimo, Caster Semenya who preceded her as World champion and Janeth Jepkosgei the 2007 title holder.

Jelimo proved she is back approaching the unbeatable form which carried her to victory in Beijing when taking the World Indoor title in March but this will prove a much more robust test for her particularly with Savinova in the field.

The 26-year-old Russian will be making her outdoor debut but no one doubts her experience and ability to take the battle to her African opponents.

However Jelimo, who followed up her 1:56.94 World lead ahead of Jepkosgei in Doha with another sub-two victory of 1:58.49 in front  of Semenya in Ostrava last Friday, must be confident of another victory.

Kenya's Cheruiyot, last summer's World 5000m and 10,000m gold medallist, will compete over the shorter distance against Meseret Defar one of her many arch Ethiopian rivals and given their no-nonsense rivalry the seven-year-old meet record is almost certain to be threatened.

That mark belongs to Tirunesh Dibaba who ran 14:32.57 five years ago but the Ethiopian double Olympic champion misses the opportunity to put her hat in the ring, instead preferring to compete over the longer distance at the SDL Prefontaine Classic in Eugene on Friday.

The anticipated powerhouse engagement will also certainly include two-time World silver medallist Sylvia Kibet who separated Cheruiyot and Defar on the podium in Daegu while Gelete Burka of Ethiopia, who as a former World Cross Country and World Indoor 1500m champion, has plenty of strength and speed in her legs to be in the mix.

Demus, Saladuha take on top names in 400m Hurdles and Triple Jump

Demus, a two-time silver medallist, finally banished the blues of not having won a major global title with her 400m Hurdles success in Daegu when she came up trumps and triumphed in the world's third fastest ever time of 52.47.

Now in the highly competitive event she is in a line up which includes Olympic champion Melaine Walker of Jamaica, Russian Natalya Antyukh, and Kaliese Spencer - the 2011 SDL Diamond Trophy winner - which clearly indicates the world lead of 54.04 belonging to Vania Stambolova will be bettered.
 
Saladuha, plus Olga Rypakova and Caterine Ibarguen who finished behind her at the World Championships, will hopefully face Tatyana Lebedeva, one of the most formidable triple jumpers of all-time, although on Wednesday morning there was a question mark whether she will make the trip.

The 35-year-old Russian, three-time World champion and third best performer of All-Time (15.34m) who missed the entire 2011 season after the birth of her second daughter, will make a welcome return to international competition should she compete.

Also present in the very strong field is 1999 World silver medallist Yamile Aldama, who after finishing fifth in Daegu, at the age of 40 stunned everyone when winning this year's World Indoor title.

Throws rivalries continue with Adams v Ostapchuk and Abakumova v Spotakova
 
New Zealand's Adams, holder of three successive World Championship gold medals the last including a Championships' record and the world's biggest throw for 11 years of 21.24 and the reigning Olympic champion goes head-to-head with Nadzeya Ostapchuk the Belarusian who in recent times has been the only woman likely to break her domination of the event.

To date that has only happened at the 2010 World Indoor Championships when Ostapchuk triumphed and with her 2005 World Outdoor gold medal with rookie Adams third.

But since, the 27-year-old Kiwi has proved the dominant competitor although away from the major championships the playing field is more level with Adams leading 16-15 in their encounters but more importantly on the last eight occasions. 

Abakumova of Russia will be made to fight every inch of the way in the javelin against World record holder and 2008 Olympic champion Barbora Spotakova who like the Russian is in superb form and beat her on home Czech soil in Ostrava when throwing 67.78m, the furthest this year.

But Abakumova also has bragging rights when defeating Spotakova in Doha with a distance 66.86m so their latest clash should fetch out the very best in the pair of them although they'll be looking over their shoulders at Christina Obergfoll.

German's ever consistent Olympic bronze medallist and 2011 Diamond Trophy winner has a never say die attitude, although knowing she will have to improve on her 64.59m which saw her finish third behind the pair in Qatar.
 
Stacked 100m Hurdles field, fast 1500 on the cards

The women's 100m is also very strong featuring Olympic champion Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and her fellow Jamaican speedsters and Beijing medallists Sherone Simpson and Kerron Stewart.
 
Only the latter of the trio who shares the meet record of 10.75 has gone under 11 seconds this season so the fast Rome track could see the others join her.

World 100m Hurdles gold medallist Sally Pearson is an absentee preferring to save her Samsung Diamond League debut for Oslo next week, but otherwise the starting list match contains almost all of her peers.

World silver medallist Danielle Carruthers, 2008 Olympic champion Dawn Harper and Briton Tiffany Porter who finished immediately behind the Aussie in Daegu plus Kellie Wells who failed to finish, Lolo Jones and Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, promise an exciting first curtain raiser before the London Olympics.
 
World Indoor 1500m gold medallist Genzebe Dibaba, now respected as a world class professional rather than the younger sister of double Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba, heads a stellar 1500m field which includes Kenyan Hellen Obiri winner of the 3000 title in Istanbul.

Dibaba has beaten the Kenyan in their last two clashes including posting a super quick 3:57.77 clocking at the recent SDL Shanghai meeting and can expect a tougher test from fellow Ethiopian Abebe Arigawe who was runner up in China with 3:59.23 and Moroccan Btissam Lakhoud, who was third in 4:01.69.

In addition Bahrain's Maryam Yusuf Jamal whose best is 3:56.18 and the USA's Morgan Uceny last year's Diamond Trophy winner will definitely make their presence felt with the former's three-year-old meet record of 3:56.55 a likely target.

Men's 800, Long Jump and relays round out the programme
 
The remainder of the programme will see Greg Rutherford who set a world Long Jump lead of 8.35m in California at the beginning of May face off with Olympic silver medallist Godfrey Mokoena, Aleksandr Menkov and his fellow Briton Chris Tomlinson.

Over 800m 2010 European champion Marcin Lewandowski faces Andrew Osagie who has excelled this year winning the World Indoor bronze medal, although the Kenyan pair of Leonard Kosencha who clocked 1:43.60 when runner up in Rabat last Sunday and Timothy Kitum who ran 1:44.00 on the same day for second in Hengelo, may carry too much firepower.

The two lap event concludes the meeting along with 4x100 and 4x400 relay competitions involving quartets from Canada, Germany, Great Britain, Korea, Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland and the host nation.

David Martin for the IAAF

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