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Reigning champs put titles on line in Doha

11 May 2007

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By Robert Falkoff

There won't be any shortage of track-and-field talent in Doha, Qatar, on Friday as the curtain goes up for the first IAAF Super Grand Prix meet of 2007.

Fans that flock to the Qatar Sports Club will have the opportunity to see eight athletes who collectively hold 11 titles from the 2004 Olympic Games and 2005 outdoor world championships. With several elite performers trying to position themselves for a 2007 foundation that could lead to 2008 glory at the Olympics, the competition figures to be spirited and should provide a sneak preview of what's to come in the summer and fall.

The Qatar IAAF World Super Tour meet will feature 10 events for the men and nine for the women. In the men's 100 meters, Shawn Crawford and Dwight Phillips of the United States are expected to command much of the attention.

Crawford ran the 100-meter final in 9.89 at the 2004 Athens Olympics, finishing in fourth place. He was just .04 seconds behind gold medalist Justin Gatlin. Crawford, a former star sprinter at Clemson University, went on to win the gold medal in the 200 meters. He also picked up a silver medal as a member of Team USA's 4x100-meter relay team.

Phillips, who specializes in the long jump and won gold in that event at the '04 Olympics and '05 worlds, can also impress fans with his sprinting ability. He ran 10.14 in the 100 meters for a personal best in 2005.

The women's 100 meters also figures to garner much attention as Team USA's Lauryn Williams and Allyson Felix square off.

Williams' spring achievements include a silver medal in the 2004 Olympics and a gold medal at the 2005 world championships in Helsinki. She has a personal best of 10.88 in the 100 meters.

Felix is more noted for her accomplishments in the 200 meters. She was a silver medalist in the 200 at the '04 Olympics and a gold medalist at the '05 world championships. Her personal best in the 100 is 11.04.

The field events in Doha could also prove intriguing. Virgilijus Alekna of Lithuania has distinguished himself in the discus throw and will be looking to add new pages to a glowing resume.

Alekna, who turned 35 in February, has been a back-to-back gold medalist in the Sydney and Athens Olympics. At 6-foot-7, he is known for having extremely long arms, which aids his discus-throwing power. The overriding question is whether he can hold up in Beijing next summer to make it three Olympic titles in a row.

Joining Alekna as a field events headliner will be Norway's Andreas Thorkildsen, who won gold in the javelin in Athens.

The Doha crowd should also get a treat watching long jumper Tianna Madison of the United States. The reigning '05 world champion, Madison has chosen to compete in her specialty event at Doha. While at the University of Tennessee, Madison won NCAA indoor and outdoor long jump titles in 2005.

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