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Worth a glimpse

The biggest matchups of track and field's title meet

Posted: Friday August 24, 2007 2:38PM; Updated: Tuesday August 28, 2007 11:22AM
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If Asafa Powell's dodgy hamstring can hold out, his race against Tyson Gay could take a world record to win.
If Asafa Powell's dodgy hamstring can hold out, his race against Tyson Gay could take a world record to win.
AP

OSAKA, Japan -- The world track and field championships begin here Saturday morning. Eight matchups I'm looking forward to seeing:

1) Tyson Gay vs. Asafa Powell -- This 100-meter showdown has been getting the Ali-Frazier treatment in those corners of the international media that care passionately about track and field. Fair enough. Powell set the world record of 9.77 in 2005 and equaled it twice in 2006 (technically, he shares it with Justin Gatlin of the U.S., who is suspended and appealing a positive drug test; Gatlin seems likely to lose his share of the record). Gay ran 9.84 into a headwind to win the U.S. title in June.

Each just 24, they have not faced each other this year. Their race intrigues me, but I'm just as interested in seeing if we get the best of either of them.

There's been a lot of talk -- from Gay and from potential medalist Derrick Atkins of the Bahamas -- that it will take a world record to win the race. Fast runners, a fast track. This kind of stuff seems to come up before every major championship. OK, fine. But Powell has been the fastest guy in the world since the summer of 2004, when he should have won the Olympic gold medal, but folded up in the final. He was hurt when Gatlin won the '05 worlds in Helsinki, so for all his fast times, he's still medal-less in major championships.

As for Gay, he's had a terrific summer, but now he's a co-favorite on a very big stage. Let's see how he handles it. Throw in the fact that Powell had a dodgy hamstring in June and Gay has had a sore knee for much of the summer and I'm not ready to predict anything big quite yet.

2) Alan Webb vs. himself -- It's heavy duty, being the great American hope. All those middle-aged guys who remember Jim Ryun and Marty Liquori. All those teenagers who were just starting to run high school cross country when Webb broke Ryun's high school mile record in 2001. Webb is arguably the fittest miler in the world at this moment. He is a tough and enthusiastic competitor. When I had dinner with him two weeks ago in Virginia, he seemed at peace with his place on the track landscape. The 1,500 heats begin Saturday morning in Osaka (late Friday night on the East Coast). It will make for terrific drama.

3) Jeremy Wariner vs. Michael Johnson, 400-meter version -- It was nice -- but vaguely disingenuous -- of Wariner to tell the world media at a Friday press conference that he's going to have to run the race of his life to win his second world title (to go with his one Olympic goal). "The competition is stronger than it has been, the way Angelo (Taylor) and LaShawn (Merritt) are running,'' said Wariner. Reality check: Wariner's 2007 personal best of 43.50, run on Aug. 7 in Stockholm, is more than a half-second faster than any other runner in the field. Taylor is a tough veteran and Merritt a young guy who is still getting better, but if Wariner were a horse, he would be 2-5 on the morning line.

The more intriguing issue is whether Wariner can take down Michael Johnson's 8-year-old world record of 43.18 from the 1999 Seville world championships. Here, I'm going to say: Maybe. Wariner is one smooth cat. He's got no competition, but Johnson didn't have any, either. In the longer view, even if Wariner doesn't get MJ in Osaka, he'll get him eventually. The cool sidelight to all of this is that Johnson is Wariner's agent/manager.

4) Tyson Gay (and every other sprinter in the world) vs. Michael Johnson, 200-meter version -- When Johnson ran his otherworldly 19.32 to win the gold medal in the 200 at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, bronze medalist Ato Boldon predicted he would not see the record fall in his lifetime. For nine years, that looked like a solid bet -- nobody broke 19.70 seconds, leaving MJ far gone. But in the last two summers, four U.S. runners have run times between 19.61 and 19.70, led by Gay's 19.62 at the U.S. championships in June (like his 100-meter win, also into a headwind). Even Boldon has now opened the door and considered the possibility that 19.32. My view on this one: It's still a mighty long way from 19.6-anything to 19.32. MJ is safe in this event.

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