Asian Athletics Championships In Manila

MANILA, Sept 18 (AFP) - The world championsteeplechaser formerly known as Stephen Cherono willmake his first appearance in the Asian Athleticschampionships beginning here Saturday.
Kenya-born Cherono, who assumed the name of Said SaeedShaheen when shifting allegiance to Qatar ahead of lastmonth’s world championships in Paris, is the star turnof the biennial meet that features 1,200 athletes from 43 countries.
The 20-year-old approaches the meet in top form aftersetting a personal best of 7min 57.38sec set at Monacolast week.
No Asian has previously run the steeplechase below8:08, and the meet record of 8:16.00 was set byShaheen’s new compatriot, Khamis Abdulla at the lastAsian championships in Sri Lanka in 2002. Abdulla isalso the reigning Asian Games champion.
Shaheen goes straight to the final on Sunday.
The championships blast off Saturday with the women’striple jump and shot put golds, as well as the men’sdiscus throw medals at stake.
Shaheen has been promised at least 1,000 dollars amonth by his new country after switching nationalitylast month, but his switching allegiance has beencriticized as immoral by International Olympic Committeechief Jacques Rogge.
Shaheen was rumored to have won a one million-dollarbonus at the Paris world championships for bringing homehis adopted country’s first gold medal on a globalathletics stage.
The Asian championships lost its top woman draw onThursday when the Manila organizers announced thewithdrawal of the region’s sprint queen SusanthikaJayasinghe.
The Sri Lankan, the defending champion in both the100m and the 200m sprints and Asia’s fastest woman inthe century dash, suffered an injury at the Paris worldchampionships, they said.
Damayanthi Darsha, the Asian Games women’s 200mchampion, is expected to carry the flag for Sri Lanka.
China are sending the largest delegation, bannered byAsia’s top women’s hammer thrower Gu Yuan.
The Manila championships include powerhouse nationsfrom the former Soviet Central Asian republics,including Kazakhstan who hold the titles in the men’s 200m and 800m as well as the women’s 400m.