Athletics run back into view again ... for the right reasons

For most casual observers, races such as the 100 or 10,000 metres are events to get excited about once every couple of summers, depending on whether it is the Olympic Games, or, like this year, the World Championships.

Participants run during the men’s 10,000 metres final at the 2013 IAAF World Championships at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow yesterday as the world’s focus once again turned to athletics. But just as quickly other sports will demand attention again.
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Athletics is back in the news with the start of the World Championships at Moscow on Saturday.

Sadly, for most casual observers, races like the 100 or 10,000 metres are events to get excited about once every couple of summers, depending on whether it is the Olympic Games, or, like this year, the World Championships.

Just over 12 months ago, Mo Farah, Jessica Ennis and Usain Bolt were the names on everyone's lips.

Thanks to a glorious Summer Olympics held at London, it seemed the world fell in love with athletics.

When it comes to the Olympics, few events capture the imagination the way athletics does.

The World Championships, which take place every two years, have a hard act to follow, not just in terms of track action but in trying to compete for attention from sports fans and media. Therefore it was disheartening to see yesterday world-class athletes ply their trade in front of a half-empty Luzhniki Stadium. Not the start in Moscow the event needed.

Farah was back on Saturday, giving us a fitting reminder of those giddy London memories when he won the 10,000m gold medal to complete a memorable set: Olympic and world titles at both 10,000m and 5,000m.

Jamaican sprint king Bolt, who on Saturday strolled through his 100m heat, also is making his own bid for glory Sunday night as he seeks to win a second 100m world title to add to his 2009 success, earning himself a sixth World Championship gold in the process.

If he does it may well help get the world's attention back on athletics as it seeks to recapture the public's imagination. A fairly sizeable challenge when competing against the competition of a new football seasons beginning across Europe, Ashes cricket in England and the US PGA Championship in the United States.

It did not help that the tournament started under the cloud of more doping scandals.

Just a month before Saturday's opening ceremony it was revealed that US sprinter Tyson Gay, the fastest man over 100m this year, had twice tested positive for an unspecified banned substance, as had Asafa Powell, Bolt's compatriot, who is a former world record holder over the distance.

What has arguably made matters worse is the fact that Gay's absence now leaves the America's former Olympic gold medallist Justin Gatlin, himself previously banned for four years, as Bolt's main challenger for the 100m title Sunday night.

In June, Gatlin beat Bolt by one-hundredth of a second to win the 100m at the Golden Gala meeting in Rome.

To many sports enthusiasts, however, he should not even have been on the same track as Bolt given his doping past.

Of course the sport has seen worse scandals over the years. The Ben Johnson affair, which saw him fail a drugs test after winning the 100m men's final at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 remains one of the sport's most shocking incidents.

Many athletes from the golden era of the mid-to-late 1980s would in subsequent years be implicated in various doping allegations, including Carl Lewis and Linford Christie, the men who finished second and third to Johnson in South Korea.

The IAAF, the sport's ruling body, has worked hard to rid athletics of this image with stricter testing methods, but the cheats always remain a step ahead.

Those that are caught, such as Gatlin, are allowed back after serving their punishment.

Gatlin returned from his ban - which was enforced from 2006 to 2010 - to pick up an Olympic bronze last summer.

Farah, for his part, continues to be a shining light of how athletics can inspire. By the end of Sunday's events, Bolt could well have joined him in the winner's circle.

Hopefully, the Russian public will show more enthusiasm for watching Bolt then they did for Farah yesterday to prove that it is not just the Olympics that holds the attention.

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