Athens ready for top athletes

Many of the world’s top athletes will be competing at the 10th World Cup in Athletics in Athens this weekend, as part of a contest between teams representing all the continents. Teams from Africa, the Americas, Asia, Europe, Oceania, as well as host Greece, the USA, and three European teams that qualified through the European Cup – Russia (men and women), France (men) and Poland (women). Leading contestants have declared they will be seeking records at this event, regarded as the Greek capital’s biggest track and field meeting since the 2004 Olympics. Hoping to draw considerable crowds to the Athens Olympic Stadium on Saturday and Sunday, the event’s organizer, ERT (Greek State Radio and Television) suffered a slight setback earlier in the week due to the news of a couple of high-profile withdrawals. On Thursday, American sprinter Marion Jones, a five-time Olympic medalist, said she would not be competing because her fitness was not up to standard. Jones missed over a month of competition after testing positive for the banned endurance enhancer EPO. The 30-year-old sprinter was cleared to run again when her second sample tested negative. Earlier in the week, Jamaican Asafa Powell, the world co-record holder in the men’s 100 meters, said he had decided to stick to the relay. American Tyson Gay now rates as the favorite in the individual sprint. Highlighting the insecurities felt by local officials and athletes over attendance figures at this world-class event, a midweek news conference in Athens was dominated by the turnout issue. Journalists at the news conference criticized ERT for delaying its promotional campaign. Greek athlete Pericles Iakovakis, the reigning European champion in the men’s 400-meter hurdles, contended that ERT journalists had failed to promote the World Cup in its preceding track and field broadcasts.