The southeastern metropolitan of Daegu is more than ready to host the world’s finest athletes this summer at the World Championships in Athletics, which will kick off in about a month’s time, organizers said Monday.
Run by the International Association of Athletic Federations, the championships, set for Aug. 27-Sept. 4, will come to South Korea for the first time. The inaugural event was held in Helsinki, Finland, in 1983.
The IAAF event is considered among the world’s largest sports competitions, alongside the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup, with its coverage transmitted to hundreds of countries.
Two-time Olympic pole-vault champion Yelena Isinbayeva (AFP-Yonhap News)
According to Daegu organizers, 2,472 athletes from 207 nations have registered through last Friday. The numbers would make the Daegu championships the largest ever, surpassing the 2,101 athletes from 202 countries at the 2009 event in Berlin.
There are 212 IAAF member states, and only five, including North Korea, have not yet committed to the Daegu event. The deadline for registration is Aug. 15. “We’ve remodeled the main stadium with the latest facilities, and physically, everything is set,” said Kim Bum-il, mayor of Daegu. “The athletes’ village and the media center can open right away. All that’s left to do is to create some buzz for athletics and present the city of Daegu to the rest of the world.”
Organizers said almost 350,000 of 453,962 tickets have been sold through last Thursday. And among some 2,000-plus athletes they will get to watch is Usain Bolt of Jamaica, who holds the world records in the men’s 100 meters (9.58 seconds) and 200 meters (19.19).
Bolt has struggled to bounce back from Achilles tendon and back injuries from a year ago, and his best 100m time this year is 9.88.
Fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell, former world record holder, boasts the fastest 100m time this season at 9.78. And with American star Tyson Gay out with an injury and another Jamaican, Steve Mullings, on the rise, the marquee event could be an all-Jamaican affair.
Other star athletes will be Yelena Isinbayeva, a world record holder in the women’s pole vault and two-time Olympic and world champion. She will look to redeem herself in Daegu after failing to clear the bar at the 2009 world championships and taking a year off in 2010. Another exciting showdown looms in the men’s 110m hurdles, where world record holder Dayron Robles of Cuba will be up against Olympic champion Liu Xiang of China.
Double amputee sprinter Oscar Pistorius recently beat the qualifying time in the men’s 400m for the worlds, and the South African is poised to become the first disabled athlete to compete at the world championships.
The athletes’ village will partially open on Aug. 10, and the U.S. and Jamaican teams will open their training camps on Aug. 13.
Athletes from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Canada, Britain and Germany will also fly in early to set up training bases in and around Daegu.
Organizers said this year’s championships will serve as a good test for top athletes before the 2012 London Olympics. And its brand new Mondo track will likely produce some world record times.
Manufactured by Italy-based flooring company Mondo, the popular namesake track has been used in every Summer Olympics since 1976 except for the 1988 Seoul Olympics. It was also used in six-straight world championships from 1995 to 2005.
Mondo is known to give a more consistent bounce and traction for athletes than other surfaces. Bolt broke three world records on Mondo at the Beijing Olympics two years ago. After setting a world record in the men’s 200-meter dash at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, American runner Michael Johnson described the Mondo surface as a “magic carpet.”
South Korea, though, may be hard pressed to win a medal, let alone set records, on that surface. It set a modest goal of finishing in the top 10 in 10 events. South Korea could become only the third host nation, after Sweden in 1995 and Canada in 2001, to be shut out in the medal standings.
Local athletes acquitted themselves well by winning four gold medals at the Guangzhou Asian Games last year, but they still remain well below global standards. Male triple jumper Kim Deok-hyeon and male javelin thrower Park Jae-myung have an outside shot at reaching the podium. (Yonhap News)