ÅF Golden League Preview: Paris Meeting Areva

Usain Bolt at the Paris Meeting Areva press conference. Photo: DPPI / Stéphane Kempinaire

Usain Bolt at the Paris Meeting Areva press conference. Photo: DPPI / Stéphane Kempinaire

Four contenders remain for $1 million Jackpot, but Bolt will take center stage.

The ÅF Golden League continues Friday in Paris, France at Meeting Areva, and will play host to some of the biggest names in the sport. Asside from the four remaining $1 million ÅF Golden League Jackpot contenders, the citizens of Paris will witness the greatest spectacle in athletics, Usain Bolt.

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The Jamaican superstar will run the 100m in Paris against modest competition, as no other athlete in the field has run within .20 of Bolt’s personal best, and world record, 9.69, or within .10 of Bolt’s 2009 best of 9.86 this season. In the pre-race press conference, Bolt said that if the weather holds well and the track feels good he is ready to run fast, which, with his talent, could mean a new world record.

Although Bolt is the star of the show, Ethiopian world record holder Kenenisa Bekele is certainly as dominant in his events and adds the excitement of being in the hunt for the $1 million Jackpot.  Bekele will take to the track in the men’s 3000m and will square off against some solid competition from around the world. Looking to take Bekele out of the prize hunt will be American double world champion Bernard Lagat, James Kwalia of Qatar and Abreham Cherkos of Ethiopia. Also looking to make a strong statement on the world stage will be American Chris Solinsky, who was the runner-up in the 5000m at the US Championships.

The flat 3000m may not be the best race over the metric distance as the 3000m steeplechase may prove to be the premier distance race of the night. Although it is not a Jackpot event, it will feature world leader Ezekiel Kemboi (7:58.85) of Kenya taking on hometown favorite Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad of France, the 2008 Olympic silver-medalist. Benabbad has set a PR in every race this year and is eyeing the ilustrius 8:00 barrier. Also look for some strong performances from perenial top performer Mustafa Mohamed (8:05.75 PR) of Sweeden and 21-year-old Abel Mutai of Kenya, who set a 18-second PR of 8:11.40 in Athens on Monday.

Another exciting matchup is on tap in the women’s 800m, where it will be a battle of the Americans. Maggie Vessey of the US has burst onto the scene in 2009, taking the title at the Prefontaine Classic and at the Rome Golden Gala meeting, her first career Golden League meet and win. Vessey will look to break 2:00.00, as that is the standard she needs to meet in order to have a chance at being selected to compete in the World Championships.  Vessey will have plenty of company on her quest as she is joined by 2009 US champion Hazel Clark, 2009 US 1500m champion Shannon Rowbury and current US #1 Anna Willard. Willard broke out in the 800m back in May at the Reebok Grand Prix, where she won in a time of 1:59.29, which remains the fifth-fastest in the world this year.  Also looking to make a strong push for the line will be Italy’s 800m star Elisa Cusma Piccione and hometown favorite Élodie Guégan.

Joining Bekele in the hunt for the $1 million Jackpot will be Jamaican Kerron Stewart in the women’s 100m, Sanya Richards of the US in the women’s 400m and Russian world record holder Yelena Isinbayeva in the women’s pole vault.  All three women will face some solid competition in their events, although judging by their dominance thus far, each should join Bekele in moving one step closer to the final prize, with the next step coming in Zurich on August 28th.

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