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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 June 2006, 16:41 GMT 17:41 UK
Steve Cram column
Steve Cram
By Steve Cram
BBC Sport commentator

In his latest column, Steve Cram picks the races to watch at Sunday's season-opener at the Gateshead British Grand Prix and spills the trackside gossip from the Oslo Golden League.

GET READY FOR GATESHEAD

First things first - the weather looks like it is going to be sunny and warm in Gateshead for this weekend's British Grand Prix.

If the weather holds out the meeting could be a sell-out. It should be because there are a lot of world-class names running - Asafa Powell, Tirunesh Dibaba and Isaac Songok to name a few.

And here are three more excellent reasons to follow the action on Sunday.

MEN'S 100m

Olympic champion Justin Gatlin may have pulled out of the 100m but his fellow joint world record-holder Asafa Powell is in the field and that is reason enough to watch the race.

I have got a feeling we could see something pretty quick from Powell, especially if it is a hot day.

Asafa Powell
Powell is chasing a fast time in Gateshead in the 100m

The Jamaican is there along with his training partner Michael Frater, American Tyson Gay and the best of the British.

The Gateshead race, which will be two heats and then a final, will be a good indicator of the gulf in class between the best in the world, represented by Powell, and the British sprinters.

Mark Lewis-Francis, Marlon Devonish and Jason Gardener all failed to qualify for the 100m final at the Oslo Golden League. The heats they failed to get through were the equivalent in class to the Olympic or World quarter-finals so that tells us something already.

The Gateshead race also gives Britain's rising star Harry Aikines-Aryeetey the chance to take two or three British scalps.

It is a big deal to be thrown in against the big guns and the World Youth 100m and 200m champion must seize his chance.

Britain's selectors are using a new policy this season ahead of the European Championships.

They now have the option to not select the top three at next month's trials. Instead, they can make a selection for the future by picking a development athlete.

If Aikines-Aryeetey wants to step up another level then this weekend represents a great opportunity to start staking his claim.

WOMEN'S 800m

I know I have said it before but the women's 800m is shaping up to be one of Britain's strongest events and the Gateshead race should be further evidence of that.

The home fans have Marilyn Okoro, Jemma Simpson, Jenny Meadows and Rebecca Lyne to cheer on, as well as the Commonwealth gold medallist Janeth Jepkosgei.

Rebecca Lyne
Lyne is finally fulfiling the potential she showed as a youngster

Lyne's progress is the story to follow as she seeks to build on an impressive 800m victory in Hengelo and a runners-up spot at last week's Oslo Golden League.

The 23-year-old has changed coaches and seems to have stepped up to world-class level almost overnight.

Lyne ran a season's best of two minutes 00.04 seconds in Hengelo and I predict she is ready to go under two minutes.

MEN'S 1500m

Yes, I am predictable but the men's 1500m is shaping up to be a very watchable race.

I wondered who was going to fill Hicham El Guerrouj's shoes after he retired and Alex Kipchirchir and Bernard Lagat are stepping forward.

The duo are on top of their game and there looks like there is nothing to separate them.

Michael East makes his return from injury while Morpeth Harrier Nick McCormick adds a bit of local interest.

It is important for the sport in this country that Gateshead is able to attract quality athletes and people come to support them.

And there are no excuses either. England open their World Cup campaign on Saturday, so there is plenty of time to get behind Britain's athletes the next day.

GOLDEN LEAGUE DILEMMAS

After going along to the first Golden League of the season in Oslo last Friday, I reckon it is going to be difficult for any athlete to dominate an event.

Kenenisa Bekele had put aside the rest of his season to focus on winning all six Golden League races only to be upset by Songok in the opener.

If any athletes win five races this season they will share a $500,000 purse, and any athlete who wins all six gets $1m. From what I saw, just winning five looks tricky enough.

Marion Jones greets the crowd after her win in New York
There has been a mixed reaction to Jones's return to the circuit

The evidence on Friday suggests the IAAF needs to take a long look at whether the Golden League is working in its current state full-stop.

The meeting struggled to fill seats and was not shown on television - those sort of signs cannot be ignored.

Another point also worth further consideration is how many traditional athletics powerhouses were not represented in Oslo - nations such as Italy, Spain and Germany (represented only by javelin thrower Stefan Wenk).

There are plenty of eastern Europeans, Americans and Africans but it is interesting to note how the profile of the sport has shifted away from central Europe so quickly.

Everyone in Oslo was also talking about Marion Jones and the jury is still out on the former Olympic 100m champion.

Some promoters are talking to the American, who is trying to escape from the shadow of the Balco doping scandal, while others are saying they still do not want her at their meetings.

Jones beat Olympic champion Veronica Campbell at the weekend and looks in good condition. If one big European promoter takes the plunge then others will probably follow.

SEE ALSO
Jones caps comeback with NY win
04 Jun 06 |  Athletics
Powell on top as Britons struggle
02 Jun 06 |  Athletics
Powell hails rivalry with Gatlin
06 Jun 06 |  Athletics
IAAF makes Golden League changes
28 Nov 05 |  Athletics


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