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Preview Thessaloniki, Greece



Since their own impressive performances have been overshadowed by the historic exploits of Usain Bolt – and who hasn’t been over the past two seasons? – it’s easy to forget that American Tyson Gay and Jamaican Asafa Powell are the second and third fastest men in history. And the pair’s sixth face-off of the year will obviously be the focus of the men’s 100m on Saturday.

Despite a lingering groin injury, Gay lived up to the promise of his flying start to the season at the World championships where he lived up to his defending champion’s role admirably. Although he finished nearly two strides behind Bolt and his 9.58 World record, Gay's 9.71 performance elevated the 27-year-old to the No.2 position all-time.

Powell, who watched his World record fall to Bolt last year, has reemerged as a more relaxed runner with the spotlight elsewhere. Powell collected his second successive World bronze in Berlin and has followed up with victories in Brussels and Rieti, defeating Gay at the former, 9.90 to 10.00.

Gay will however bring a significant 3-1 edge over Powell to Thessaloniki, having also beaten the Jamaican in Rome and Stockholm. WAF history seems to be on Powell’s side – he’ll be chasing his fourth straight and fifth overall WAF title, and Gay his first.

Three others with 2009 sub-10 credentials will be in the field as well – Churandy Martina (9.97 SB) from the Netherlands Antilles, US champion Michael Rodgers (9.94 PB, SB) and Darvis Patton (9.94 SB) of the US, another Berlin finalist.

100m - WOMEN

The women’s 100 has been primarily dominated by two women, with a third just a step behind, and more recently, a step ahead.

Shelly-Ann Fraser showed yet again that she is ready to run when it matters most. The surprise Olympic champion last year delivered big in the Berlin final with a lifetime best and world-leading 10.73 to edge Kerron Stewart, who matched her own career best of 10.75.

In the Berlin build-up however, it was Stewart who garnered the most attention, collecting wins in Kingston, Doha, Berlin’s ISTAF, Oslo, Rome and Paris. In the Italian capital she romped to her first 10.75 of the season.

Finishing third behind the Jamaican pair was American Carmelita Jeter in 10.90, a performance following up her 10.83 personal best from the semi-finals just a few hours before. But it is the American who has the best momentum at the moment with three post-Berlin victories in as many starts: 10.86 in Zurich, 11.07 in difficult conditions in Gateshead, and 10.88 in Brussels. In both Golden League fixtures, she defeated both Fraser and Stewart. Fraser and Foster finished 1-2 in the WAF last year; Jeter won in 2007.

The strong field also boasts three other finalists: Bahamian Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie (10.97 SB), who was fourth; her compatriot Shandra Sturrup (10.99 SB), who was fifth, and former World champion Lauryn Williams (11.01 SB) of the US, who was eighth.

200m - MEN

It’s difficult to write or say anything more than hasn’t already been written or said about Usain Bolt. His astounding 19.19 World record in Berlin, coming in his eighth race of the championships, adequately sums up the 23-year-old’s efforts to continue redefining the sprints. As a follow-up, the Jamaican’s 19.57 dash in Brussels nearly duplicated his 19.59 run in Lausanne earlier this summer, both run on wet tracks in rainy conditions.

Bolt has said that he hasn’t been running enough 200s this season, suggesting that more heroics may be on his agenda. Couple that with his recent decision to call it a season after Sunday’s race, along with conditions much more to the islander’s liking, and we just may witness yet another jaw-dropping display by the double Olympic and World champion.

Leading the chase will be American Wallace Spearmon, the 2005 silver medallist who took home his second successive World bronze in the event in Berlin. Spearman clocked 19.85 in the German capital and most recently nabbed a victory in Rieti in 20.27 a few days after finishing second to Bolt in Brussels where he clocked 20.19.

The field also includes Stéphane Buckland (20.33 SB) of Mauritius, the defending WAF champion; and American Mark Jelks, who has lowered his PB to 20.28 this season.

200m - WOMEN

When she crossed the finish line in Berlin to take yet another World title, it was easy to forget that American Allyson Felix is still only 23. With three World titles in as many appearances, the last two in dominating fashion, Felix is already well on her way to chiseling her name among the event’s all-time greats.

Undefeated in five outings over the distance this year, 2009 was capped by another runaway victory on the World stage, this time in 22.02, more than three-tenths ahead of reigning two-time Olympic champion Veronica Campbell-Brown. But she was even faster earlier, clocking 21.88 in Stockholm, the second fastest performance of her still very young career. She’ll obviously start as the overwhelming favourite to collect a third WAF title after wins in 2005 and 2006.

Here she’ll face Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie, the World champion back in 2001 and bronze medallist this year. The 33-year-old has clocked 22.23 this season, just a few ticks from her 22.19 career best run a decade ago. Also doubling is Kerron Stewart (22.62 SB) who put the event on the backburner this year to focus on the 100, but her solid credentials include Olympic bronze in the event.

Not be outdone, 400m star Sanya Richards will be contesting the double here for the third time in WAF history. She won both last year and in 2006 finished second over the half lap before taking the 400.

400m - MEN

Last year, LaShawn Merritt rose to the top of his event with an impressive win at the Olympic Games. This year the 23-year-old American did what was expected of him to maintain his dominance.

Undefeated in nine competitions this year – his unbeaten streak now stands at 11 – Merritt’s supremacy was capped with his first World title with another solid victory over his compatriot Jeremy Wariner, whom he succeeded as Olympic and now World champion. His 44.06 run in Berlin is by far the fastest of the year. Barring major catastrophe, a third straight WAF title is his for the taking.

He’ll be joined by his Beijing roommate, Olympic 400m champion Angelo Taylor, who’ll be looking to end his season on a high after disappointment in Berlin; Bahamian Chris Brown (44.81 SB), who was fifth in Berlin; Irishman David Gillick who improved to 44.77 this season and sixth in Berlin; and Briton Michael Bingham, who posted a 44.74 lifetime best in the Berlin semis before finishing seventh.

400m - WOMEN

But it’s over the full lap where Richards is expected to shine most brightly. The finest 400m runner on the one-day circuit for several seasons, the 24-year-old American finally took World gold in Berlin where she dominated the field with a 49.00 performance. But that remarkable run, the fifth fastest of her career, is only her third fastest of the year. She followed up with 48.92 and 48.83 runs in Zurich and Brussels to collect her share of the $1 million Golden League Jackpot.

How dominant has Richards been? Her average margin of victory in the six  ÅF Golden League meetings was 1.30 seconds, larger than that of co-Jackpot winner Kenenisa Bekele’s margins in the five 5000m races he contested in the series. But she believes she can go faster still. Throughout her career, Richards has gotten faster as the season progressed. In 2006, she set her American record of 48.70 at the IAAF World Cup in Athens. After her run in Brussels, Richards admitted that an assault on that record on her return visit to Greece was very much on her mind.

Leading the chase pack will be four other Berlin finalists, led by Jamaican Shericka Williams, who clocked a PB 49.32 to repeat her runner-up finish from the Olympic Games in Beijing. Finishing fourth and fifth in the Berlin final, Jamaican Novlene Williams-Mills (49.77) and Briton Christine Ohuruogu (50.21) clocked season’s bests. Richards is very much aware of Ohuruogu, who took the World title in 2007 and struck Olympic Gold in 2008. Amantle Montsho of Botswana, another Berlin finalist, has run 49.89 this season, just shy of her 49.83 best.

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF