OSLO, June 26 (AFP) - The ghosts of the greatest namesin athletics will linger around the Bislett Stadium whenit stages its final meeting on Friday as the GoldenLeague season opens with a look to the future and a nodto the past.
The rickety stadium that has produced more than 50world records is being entirely rebuilt, but firstlaunches the world’s top stars on an eight-week journeyto the World Championships in Paris’ futuristic Stade deFrance.
After British 100 metres duo Dwain Chambers and MarkLewis-Francis have gone head to head, and Maria Mutolahas renewed her rivalry with Stephanie Graf over 800metres, it is fitting that the old stadium’s last racewill be a top-class men’s 5,000 metres.
The Bislett is synonymous with middle and longdistance running.
The stadium saw the emergence of the legendary EmilZatopek at the 1946 European Championships and hostedthe memorable record-breaking runs of Steve Ovett, SebCoe and Steve Cram which gripped the sporting world’sattention in the 1980s.
Haile Gebrselassie, arguably the greatest runner ofall time, set the last track world record at Bislett inthe 10,000 metres six years ago and his 21-year-old heir apparent Kenenisa Bekele leads the castin the 5,000 metres.
Bekele prefers the 10,000, but after beating hisfellow Ethiopian Gebrselassie already this year everyappearance the world cross country champion makes on atrack generates a buzz.
His rivals include the the latest star from Kenya’sbottomless talent pool, 19-year-old James Kwalia, the third fastest performerover 5,000 metres this year.
It should be a great race to bid goodbye to theBislett, but although there will be pacemakers it mightbe asking too much for a final world record,'' said themeeting's media director Klaus Faerevaag. With Marion Jones expecting a baby in July withboyfriend and world 100 metres record holder TimMontgomery, the United States has found a new sprintqueen in the shape of Kelli White, who goes in the 100metres on Friday. Having done the hard part by winning both the 100 and200 at last weekend's US trials in Palo Alto, andbooking her place on the world championships team, 26-year-old White can relax into her running. Craig Masback, the chief executive of USA Track andField (USATF), was crowing after White clocked 10.93secinto a headwind to take the 100m at the trials, makingher the world's fastest woman sprinter of the year. Kelli White has gone to a new level,’’ Masback saidthis week. ``We saw the same situation in 1997 withMarion and in 1988 with Florence Griffith-Joyner goingto a new level.’’
In other highlights, China’s emerging Liu Xiangcontinues his bid for world championships glory byfacing in-form Stanislav Olijars of Latvia in the 110metres hurdles and reigning world champion Andre Buchermeets Kenya’s Wilfried Bungei, the fastest man this yearover 800 metres.
Competitors in the Golden League are competing thisyear for an increased jackpot of one million dollars,which will be shared between those athletes who wintheir individual event at all six Golden Leaguemeetings.
To claim the money, athletes must also compete in theWorld Athletics Final in Monaco in September.