Usain Bolt of Jamaica competes in the Men's 200m Semifinals on Day 12 of the London 2012 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on August 8, 2012 (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Lausanne, Switzerland

Bolt leads Caribbean sprint campaign in Lausanne

Caribbean athletes led by Usain Bolt in the 200m will be bidding for dominance in the high quality sprint events at the Athletissima 2012 - Samsung Diamond League meeting in Lausanne on Thursday (23), the 11th of 14 fixtures of the 2012 Samsung Diamond League global tour.

While a feast of fast times is on the cards in the Pontaise Olympic Stadium, 13 individual gold medallists from the London Games and in total 52 of those who earned podium finishes, should highlight what promises to be an exceptional meeting above the shores of Lake Geneva.

The class line-ups also include the men's 400m, 110m Hurdles and Pole Vault, and the women's 100m, Long Jump and Javelin Throw, with the full medal podiums from London on show.

Adding to the excitement the programme will feature three non-Diamond Race events, the men's 100m where five of the London finalists led by runner up Yohan Blake, and the women’s 100m Hurdles where the silver and bronze medallists Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells renew their intense USA rivalry. There is also a women's 4x100m relay.

Bolt is not worried about records

The return of Bolt to the Swiss city following his London Olympic Games three gold medal sweep will have the capacity crowd anticipating a serious attack on the World 200m record which has stood since his blistering mark of 19.19 at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin three years ago.

However Bolt, who celebrated his 26th birthday in Lausanne on Tuesday, insisted: "I'm not worried about records. I just want to finish the season injury free - it's been a stressful one for me."

Yet the legend's performance in London where he motored to the defence of his title in the fourth equal fastest time ever seen - 19.32 - which matched his predecessor Michael Johnson's old World record figures - suggests he can make inroads into it on the very fast stadium track.

The Jamaican has already showed his passion for his favourite distance in Lausanne when winning in a superb 19.63 in 2009, which he reduced to 19.59 a year later.

That meeting record definitely looks like it will be rewritten given his Olympic success when he visibly slowed a few metres from the finish line.

Challenging Bolt will be five other sub-20sec performers from this summer, led by Olympic bronze medallist Warren Weir (19.84), plus finalists Churandy Martina (19.94) and Wallace Spearmon (19.90) but with a personal best of 19.65 to his name. Nickel Ashmeade with a season's best of 19.94 and more interestingly 21-year-old fellow Jamaican Jason Young who clocked a fast 19.86 at another Swiss meet in Luzern at the beginning of July, will also be foraging for a good result.

'Pocket Rocket’ takes on silver and bronze medallists

The women's 100m is another race crammed with Olympic finalists with Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica and USA’s Carmelita Jeter, the gold and silver medallists, both having major incentives to be first across the line.

Fraser-Pryce is no stranger to the meet having scored victories in 2008 prior to winning her first Olympic title in Beijing and in 2009, while Jeter took the win in 2010 when the event was last staged as part of the Athletissima schedule.

"To be here shows I'm in shape," said Fraser-Pryce now referred to as the "Pocket Rocket" by her colleagues and supporters for her speed down the runway. "I like nicknames for athletes, whether for me or Usain (Lightning Bolt), they are often very fitting."

Fraser-Pryce who superseded the legendary Merlene Ottey, now a Slovenian, as Jamaican record holder with a time of 10.70 this year believes she is ready to run fast although playing down suggestions she can attack the 14-year-old meet record of 10.72.

"I'm ready to run, it's my job," said the 25-year-old who after the Olympics has been training at her team’s base in Italy under the eye of coach Stephen Francis.

"I am here, passionate and in shape. I don't pay any attention to records. I don't want pressure. I just want to get to that line," added Fraser Pryce who is looking forward to graduating in Child Care & Development from University in November.

Apart from Jeter, Jamaican compatriot Veronica Campbell-Brown, the London bronze medallist, and other Olympic finalists Murielle Ahoure, Kelly-Ann Baptiste and Kerron Stewart make up another electric race.

Could it be "Piranha" James?

With nicknames very much a talking topic at the pre-event press conference it seems it will only be a matter of time before Kirani James the Olympic 400m gold champion is found a label which best describes how he is defeating his older rivals.

Maybe it could be "Piranha" given his voracious appetite for the one lap event which in the last two years has seen him gnaw his opponents ambitions to the bone and gobble up the World Championships and Olympic titles.

"The secret is the fish I eat, fried or cooked," the 19-year-old Grenadian (20 on 1 Sept) answered when questioned how he seems to recover so quickly after every hard race, including his first ever sub-44sec clocking at the Olympics.

James will line up against fellow Caribbean stars Luguelin Santos and Lalonde Gordon who he easily defeated at the Games with his time of 43.94, while 2010 European Championships gold and bronze medallists Kevin Borlee and Martyn Rooney are also in the field.

Merritt in record hunt

A World record beckons in the men's 110m Hurdles and the likeliest candidate to achieve it is Olympic gold medallist Aries Merritt who believes with the Games pressure off, he can dip under his personal best of 12.92 which won him the laurels.

"If that happens I might or might not go home - but who’s to say I won't do it again in Birmingham or Brussels," quipped the 27-year-old at his presser who at least managed to fly across the pond for a day and half before returning to athletic duties in Lausanne.

Joking apart Merritt has the flat speed to better Dayron Robles’ four year old figures of 12.87 and to better that would mean lowering the meet and the then World record of 12.88 which Liu Xiang achieved in Athletissima six years ago.

"I did test the track in the last couple of days and it is as fast as London," added the American. "The wind will need to be at my back and it should be warm to run a perfect race. Hopefully I will be faster than the 12.92, 12.93 and 12.94 I've ran this year."

In opposition will be last year's World champion and fellow American Jason Richardson, along with Hansle Parchment who finished well off the pace behind him in London. Also in the line-up will be David Oliver who missed out on Olympic selection but ran a season's best of 13.07 in Albi last week, and this summer's European champion Sergey Shubenkov who has a 13.09 under his belt.

Lavillenie to remain on top?

More London 1-2-3 finishes are to be played out again in the infield.

Renaud Lavillenie, who took the Pole Vault gold medal with a season's best 5.97m, faces Bjorn Otto who on count-back finished runner up ahead of fellow German Raphael Holzdeppe with the bar at 5.91m.

The target if the wind is not blowing too hard will be Brad Walker's meet record of 5.91m set in 2007 the summer in which he became World champion. Walker returns to Lausanne, as does Steve Hooker the Beijing 2008 gold medallist.

The Long Jump sees USA’s Brittney Reese take on Yelena Sokolova and Janay Deloach whom she edged at the Olympics and who is aiming to make it three victories in a row in the Pontaise pit.

Reese beaten in Stockholm last Friday, said: "After the Olympic Games I celebrated with my family so my legs were a little bit tired. In Berlin on Sunday I found my rhythm and now I've come to Lausanne to win."

The Javelin Throw will again see Barbora Spotakova attempting to subdue Christina Obergfoll, who is 31 today, and her fellow German Linda Stahl who took silver and bronze medals behind her in London. But the World record holder will be conscious of the presence of last year's World champion Mariya Abakumova who surprisingly underperformed in London (10th) and will be seeking redemption.

Manzano takes on east Africa

Back on the track the 1500m, with Olympic champion Taoufik Makhloufi not competing, will see the silver medallist Leonel Manzano face the wrath of the more favoured Kenyan and Ethiopian runners who were expected to collect a clean sweep at the Games.

Last year's World Championships runner-up Silas Kiplagat will be leading the forecast cavalry charge along with Nixon Chepseba, who with a time of 3:29.77 is a fraction of 0.50sec slower than him this year.

Manzano, who undertook a seven day rest before racing over 800m in Warsaw earlier in the week, if successful will become the first American 1500m runner to win at the Lausanne meet.

The 3000m Steeplechase lines-up Olympic bronze medallist Abel Mutai who will try to hold off fellow countryman Paul Koech, this year's world season leader with a personal best time of 7:54.31 which he set in Rome at the end of May. The meet record of 8:01.62 was set two years ago by Brimin Kipruto and carries a bonus of US$2000. If a Kenyan wins they will become the 14th successive to clinch the Lausanne victory.

The women's 400m Hurdles will see Natalya Antyukh, the surprise winner in London who took the gold medal in a personal best 52.70, attempting to repulse the threat of bronze medallist Zuzana Hejnova. Former gold medallist Melaine Walker who triumphed here in 2008 before her Beijing victory will be eager to prove a point to the Russian and Czech Republic podium finishers.

Mariya Savinova, the Olympic and World 800m title holder has a proven championships record but showed in Rome that she can be vulnerable in one off races. World season leader Pamela Jelimo, the 2008 Olympic champion, will be looking for her scalp, while Russian Yelena Kofanova shouldn't be far away in what looks to be a close encounter.

The 3000m will see Sylvia Kibet starting favourite, although Gelete Burka from Ethiopia is capable of scoring a win. USA’s Shannon Rowbury should ensure the pace isn't slow.

Rypakova vs Saladuha

Back on the infield the Triple Jump fetches-up another head-to-head between last year's World champion Olha Saladuha and Olympic gold medallist Olga Rypakova who pushed her into third position in their London Games clash. World Indoor champion Yamile Aldama, the 40-year-old veteran continues her career, while the legendary Tatyana Lebedeva who said she was retiring after failing to make the Olympic final is also on the start list.

Valerie Adams, who retained her Olympic Shot Put, is the big name for an event which will be staged at Athletissima for the first time since 1991. The New Zealander who resides in Switzerland during her European season will have silver medallist Yevgeniya Kolodko to contend with and the long standing meet record of 20.37m as her target.

The men’s High Jump has Olympic winner Ivan Ukhov lined-up against Mutaz Essa Barshim and Robbie Grabarz who shared the bronze medal with the USA's Erik Kynard in London. Reigning World champion Jesse Williams and the 2007 gold medallist Donald Thomas are also in the field.

Before the crowds start flocking to what is always a well presented meeting there will be an early competition for the Discus throwers led by Olympic silver and bronze medallists Ehsan Hadadi and Gerd Kanter. The immortal Virgilijus Alekna will add his class to the event along with former Olympic runner up Piotr Malachowski.

Blake takes on Gay at the dash

In the non-Diamond Race events Blake, last year's World 100m gold medallist and runner up behind Bolt in London, faces a stacked field including former World champion Tyson Gay who did remarkable well to finish fourth at the Olympics after a very late start to his season after surgery.

Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells, with Olympic champion Sally Pearson injured, will be the names to beat in the sprint hurdles while the 4x100m relay the last event of the night seems certain to fly to a fleet footed Jamaican quartet.

David Martin for IAAF