With one year to go before London hosts the next Olympics, the world's best runners, throwers and jumpers have converged on Daegu, South Korea, for the ultimate dress rehearsal, the IAAF World Track & Field Championships. Beginning Saturday (Friday night in the U.S.) and running through Sunday, Sept. 4, athletes will face off for global titles — and the favorites' status heading towards the 2012 Summer Games. NBC/Universal Sports analyst Ato Boldon is predicting "a world championship of controversy and intrigue," given some dynamic athletes (including double-amputee Oscar Pistorius of South Africa, who runs on prosthetic carbon-fiber blades and has qualified for the 400-meter dash) and the tricky new false-start rule that shows no mercy to anyone who jumps the gun. Extensive TV coverage (see schedule, below) means fans will get to see much of the action. Here are three storylines sure to attract attention in Daegu:
• Will lightning strike again for Usain Bolt?
The defending champion in the 100- and 200-meter dashes (as well as the 4x100 relay), Usain Bolt has been the most dominant sprinter on the planet since storming to Olympic glory in 2008. But following a loss last summer and a series of lackluster victories this season, the lanky Jamaican may be vulnerable (at least in the shorter race). "There's nothing Usain Bolt's 2011 season that would intimidate anybody that is likely to line up against him at the world championships," says Boldon, an Olympic medalist for Trinidad and Tobago and the 1997 world champ in the 200. "He's not starting well, he's not accelerating well, and his top speed seems to have deserted him this year. That's the holy trinity of sprint problems." Bolt's job of defending got a little easier Thursday when teammate and former world-record-holder Asafa Powell pulled out of the meet with an injury. Other contenders include Trinidad and Tobago's Richard Thompson and American Walter Dix, the silver and bronze medalists, respectively, at the 2008 Olympics, and Jamaica's Nesta Carter.
• Can Allyson Felix double down in Daegu?
Already the three-time defending champion in the 200-meters, American Allyson Felix is attempting an unprecedented women's double this year, going for gold in the 400 before seeking title No. 4 in her specialty. "The schedule is very suited to her," Boldon says. The 400 final is Monday night, Aug. 29, and the 200 heats don't go off until Thursday morning, Sept. 1. "I think for somebody [like Felix] who has good natural endurance, those two days can make a big difference." Still, Boldon has concerns over her form — she hasn't been as dominant as last year, when she ranked No. 1 in the world in both events. In the 200 she'll face Olympic champion Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica, as well as U.S. teammate Carmelita Jeter, a 100-meter specialist who beat Felix in a 200 last month. The 400 field includes defending champion Sanya Richards-Ross, who has finally returned to top form after fighting injuries, and Botswana's Amantle Montsho, the African champion and winner of four straight Diamond League races this summer.
• Who will be the king of the hurdles?
The most anticipated event of the championships could very well be the men's 110-meter hurdles, which features the three fastest performers of all time. Cuba's Dayron Robles is the reigning Olympic champion and world-record holder (12.87 seconds) and has looked sharp this summer. The 2004 Olympic champion, Liu Xiang of China, has a best of 12.88 and is eager to add another world championship to the title he won in 2007. Three-time U.S. champion David Oliver won Olympic bronze in 2008, holds the American record (12.89) and was last year's No. 1 hurdler, but he's had an up and down season in 2011, suffering losses to Robles, Liu and up-and-coming teammate Jason Richardson. "David Oliver has a lot to prove," Boldon says. He's already considered their equal in terms of time, but in this business you are judged by what your championship results are."
The television schedule (click here to find Universal in your area):
Friday, Aug. 26: 10pm/9c, Universal Sports
Saturday, Aug. 27: 1:30pm/12:30c, NBC; and 10pm/9c, Universal Sports
Sunday, Aug. 28: 12:30pm/11:30am c, NBC; and 10pm/9c, Universal Sports
Monday, Aug. 29: 2pm/1c and 10pm/9c, Universal Sports
Tuesday, Aug. 30: 2pm/1c and 10pm/9c, Universal Sports
Wednesday, Aug. 31: 10pm/9c, Universal Sports
Thursday, Sept. 1: 2pm/1c and 10pm/9c, Universal Sports
Friday, Sept. 2: 2pm/1c and 10pm/9c, Universal Sports
Saturday, Sept. 3: 2pm/1c, NBC; and 8pm/7c, Universal Sports
Sunday, Sept. 4: 1:30pm/12:30c, NBC