Monaco relief after drugs-tainted week
The world of athletics will hope the spotlight turns back to action on the track and field at the Diamond League meet in Monaco on Friday after a disastrous week during which two of the best sprinters to have ever donned spikes tested positive for drugs.
The failed tests of American Tyson Gay and Jamaican Asafa Powell, second and fourth fastest men of all time, and Powell's compatriot, three-time Olympic medallist Sherone Simpson, have plunged the sport into one of its darkest periods just three weeks away from the start of the world championships in Moscow.
Gay was expected to run in Monaco, where he set the stadium record of 19.72sec over 200m in 2010, and maintain an impressive streak of early-season unbeaten form in his bid to dethrone Jamaican duo Yohan Blake, now injured, and Usain Bolt of their world sprint titles.
"Herculis Diamond League in Monaco... one of the best track stadiums in the world. Cool poster too. Almost looks like I am racing (and losing to) Sally and Mo. LOL," Gay ill-fatedly posted on the official Facebook page of the meet in reference to Australian hurdler Sally Pearson and Briton Mo Farah.
Ironically, Gay's absence has made teammate Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic champion and London Games bronze medallist who served a four-year ban for doping, favourite in the blue riband 100m event.
The race will also feature Frenchmen Christophe Lemaitre and Jimmy Vicaut, Jamaican duo Nickel Ashmeade and Kemar Bailey-Cole, St Kitts and Nevis veteran Kim Collins and American Mike Rodgers, who also picked up a nine-month ban for testing positive for a banned stimulant.
Elsewhere on the track, Farah will compete in the 1 500m, stepping down from the 5 000 and 10 000m in both of which he is defending Olympic champion.
FAST PACE EXPECTED
A tough field including Kenyan world gold and silver medallists Asbel Kiprop and Silas Kiplagat will ensure a fast pace, exactly what Farah will be seeking as a warm-up to his bid to repeat his Olympic double gold on the world stage in Moscow.
Farah's teammate Jessica Ennis-Hall, who claimed heptathlon gold in London, was a late withdrawal from the 100m hurdles, in which she would have been up against Pearson, as she struggles to shake off an ankle injury that has sidelined her all season.
Farah might have done the right thing skipping the 5 000m, however, with a field featuring Ethiopian track legend Kenenisa Bekele, the Olympic champion in 5 000 and 10 000m in 2008, and Kenyan-born American Bernard Lagat, the current world silver medallist.
All three podium finishers from London in the men's pole vault will be on show, French gold medallist Renaud Lavillenie up against German duo Bjorn Otto and Rafael Holzdeppe.
And the triple jump will feature French track and field's 'bad boy' Teddy Tamgho, the world indoor record holder steadily making a comeback from injury in a bid to worry Olympic and world champion Christian Taylor of the United States.
With Jamaican sprinting in the doping doldrums, multiple medal winner Veronica Campbell-Brown having also tested positive earlier this season, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce has been left to carry the hopes for the women.
Having set a world lead of 22.13sec at the Jamaican national championships, she goes up against American Carmelita Jeter, the bronze medallist in London behind Fraser-Pryce and winner Allyson Felix, who competes in the 4x100m relay in Monaco.
The meeting will be shown live on SuperSport HD3 and SS7 from 8pm CAT (SA, GMT+2) on Friday.