What I'm Looking Forward To: 10 Storylines from Moscow by M. Nicole Nazzaro

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M. Nicole Nazzaro, a long time writer for American Track & Field, is in Moscow and writing for RunBlogRun as one of our World Championship's daily columnists. Here are her ten storylines for Moscow, as considered today, Saturday, August 10, 2013:

MOFarahwins.jpg
Mo Farah takes control, August 10, 2013, 
photo by Pretty Sporty Photos/ Cheryl Treworgy              


What I'm Looking Forward To: 10 Storylines from Moscow
by M. Nicole Nazzaro
 
A world track and field championships often feels like a three-ring circus that goes on for nine days - one that can turn into a soap opera on a dime depending on the scandal of the day. Especially in the early sessions with multiple elimination rounds, there's so much going on at any moment in the main stadium that it's hard to know where to look (spectators' hint: when all else fails, follow the cheering fans). Check out the IAAF and USATF websites to see the full schedule of events. Here's our take on ten stories to watch over the next week and a half:
 
1. Doping scandals: Can Team USA live down Tyson Gay's positive test? If the shoe wasn't on the other foot already after Marion Jones and Team BALCO, it certainly is today, after Tyson Gay - a role model for clean sport - turned up dirty earlier this year. Explanations aside, it hurts everyone when one of the sport's most visible champions earns a drug suspension. The American team here will do well to keep their focus on the competition at hand, and every athlete should take the fistful of drug positives that turned up this year as a warning: compete dirty, and you'll eventually get caught.
 
2. Jenny Simpson in the 1500 meters: another gold, another mascot hug? Simpson's first thought upon slipping through the crowd to snatch the gold medal two years ago in Korea: "Now what do I do?" At first she wasn't sure she had won, then she wondered where she was supposed to go, and finally she celebrated in the arms of the event mascot. (If you haven't seen it, YouTube it - it's one of the best post-race celebrations around.) Can she do it again? The women's 1500m heats begin on Sunday.
 
3. World's best athlete redux?: American Ashton Eaton is the defending Olympic gold medalist and world record holder. The grueling two-day decathlon promises to be a challenge for the entire field - the forecast calls for hot sun both days - and Eaton has been nursing injuries, so it remains to be seen whether the world's greatest athlete can bring home back to back Olympic and world titles.
 
4. Galen Rupp's double (and a guy named Mo Farah): The American and the Briton, training partners and fellow competitors, go head to head in both distance races on the track, as they did at the London Olympics. Farah gave host city London a hero's performance last year, winning gold at 5000m and 10,000m; Rupp's silver in the 10,000m gave America its best men's distance performance in the Olympics since Frank Shorter won the marathon in 1972. Rupp and Farah (also the defending 5000m world champion) are both here in Moscow, and it should be a great pair of races to watch.
 
5. Anna Chicherova: The "jump for height," as the Russians refer to the high jump, is the sexy event here in Moscow for a multitude of reasons. Subway advertisements in the Moscow subway are still touting the head to head ("face to face" in Russian) rivalry between Russia's Chicherova      and former world titlist Blanka Vlasic, who has since scratched from this meet, so the defending world champion (and 2013 IAAF Statistics book cover model) will  have to rely on the inspiration from the home crowd to turn in a world-beating performance.
 
6. Jenn Suhr vs. Yelena Isinbayeva: two world record holders, one gold medal. 2012 Olympic gold medalist Suhr feels like the favorite in this battle of world indoor and outdoor record holders - her 5.02m indoor vault earlier this year broke Isinbayeva's record, and Isinbayeva's still-safe 5.06m outdoor record was set back in 2009. But this is Russia, where Isinbayeva has ruled the vault for much of the last decade. The crowds could propel her to the win, but she'll have to get through a surging Suhr to do it.
 
7. The crowds: does Russia heart athletics? Track and field crowds can be raucous (Paris, 2003), raucous when the country's favorite athletes are competing (Helsinki, 2005) and simply polite (Osaka, 2007). Will Muscovites take to the sport the way western Europeans do, or will there be empty seats in the stands?
 
8. Usain Bolt, always. Even with a greatly reduced men's 100m field due to multiple doping scandals, Usain Bolt's star power eclipses just about every other athlete on the planet. He'll likely have to false-start again as he did in the 2011 Daegu worlds to not take home gold in the short sprints, and the relays will be a tale of the baton. If the U.S. passes well, they might give the Jamaicans a scare, but gold and green should take the top spot unless someone loses the stick.
 
9. Deena Kastor, master's marathoner, takes on the Moscow heat. Where have we seen this before? You've got to love an athlete who's still competing in the world championships at age 40. Deena Kastor warmed up for worlds by setting a master's best time last weekend in Joan Benoit Samuelson's hometown race, the Beach to Beacon in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, before hopping a plane to Moscow. Teammate Dathan Ritzenhein, who runs tonight in the men's 10,000-meter final, shuddered when we asked him if he'd still be competing in ten years when he hits the big 4-oh, but Kastor just keeps on chugging along. We don't know what the Moscow heat will do to her - but then again, nine years ago on a similarly hot day in Athens, Greece, Kastor lasted longer than all but two of her competitors and took home Olympic bronze.
 
10. And finally...will competition matter more than medal counts? It's the media's favorite way to keep score, but the world championships bring out performances that can't always be expressed by the color of the hardware you tuck in your carry-on bag on the way out of town. Thirty-three years ago, the American team boycotted the Summer Olympics here. Today, while our countries' presidents battle out old Cold War rivalries, a more elegant competition should shape up in the refurbished Olympic stadium of old. Here's hoping we pay attention to more than just medals, and see the competition for what it is: a demonstration of international competition at its finest, and some good old-fashioned gutsy performances to go with it.

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