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PREVIEW Bolt to the rescue as athletics aims to shed identity crisis in Rio By John Bagratuni, dpa

Europe
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Battered by corruption and doping, the ruling body IAAF will hope for a turnaround for the showcase sport at the Rio Olympics - with Jamaican superstar Usain Bolt the centre of attention again.

Rio de Janeiro (dpa) - Usain Bolt eyes a historic "triple triple" as the athletics competition gets underway on Friday at the Rio Olympics in the absence of a Russian team and with the showcase sport going through a major identity crisis.

Some have argued that the Jamaican supersprinter Bolt has all but single-handedly come to the rescue of the battered sport with his personality, fast times and unrivalled medal collection.

Bolt will face off against American rival Justin Gatlin in the 100m and LaShawn Merritt in the 200m - with both Americans getting extra attention in Rio owing to their doping past.

The 2004 champion Gatlin is a two-time offender while Merritt‘s case - a doping ban ahead of the London 2012 Games - resulted in a landmark ruling from the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to outlaw the so-called Osaka Rule under which athletes with a doping ban were not eligible for the next Olympics.

The CAS confirmed this ruling in Rio when it allowed several Russian athletes into the Games - throwing out a decision from the International Olympic Committee to bar all Russians with a doping past from competing in Brazil.

That did not, however, affect athletics as the CAS had earlier confirmed a suspension of the entire Russian team by the ruling body IAAF over widespread doping practices.

That leaves the likes of pole vault queen Yelena Isinbayeva on the sidelines, and the IOC controversially did not even allow whistleblower Yulia Stepanova to Rio despite the IAAF declaring her eligible as a neutral athlete.

The only Russian at the Games is long jumper Darya Klishina who lives and trains in the United States. Her call-up was criticised in Russia in social media where she has been named a traitor.

Gatlin meanwhile has kept a low profile as he comes to Rio as the fatest 100m runner of the season and finally wants to beat the mighty Bolt, who has not lost a global event race on the track in almost a decade - collecting six Olympic golds and 11 world titles in the process.

Gatlin was also the season leader at last year‘s worlds, only to be pipped by Bolt by one-hundredth in the 100m and a far bigger margin in the 200m in a duel dubbed "good v evil."

Bolt, who says he has fully recovered from a hamstring problem, has largely kept out of the doping debate (which has also affected some of his Jamaican team-mates) and rather caught all attention dancing with some samba girls at a media event Tuesday.

"People should have faith because we‘re on the right track," he said.

"We have to go through a rough time before we get to the good times, so I personally feel that we‘re going in the right direction. So in a few years, sports will be clean and everything will be great."

That may be a little over-optimistic as apart from doping in Russia, Kenya and elsewhere the sport also had to cope with corruption within the IAAF - centring on its former president Lamine Diack and around allowing Russians to bribe themselves out of positive doping tests.

New IAAF supremo Sebastian Coe is aiming to clean up the mess with changes in governance and other areas, and outstanding competition by clean athletes could help his cause.

Bolt will be the centre of attention as he seeks to complete his third straight 100m, 200m and 4x100m treble but there are others as well.

Countrywoman Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, aka the "pocket rocket", can become the first woman to win three 100m golds in a row.

Britain will hope for a repeat of their "super Saturday" from 2012 by distance runner Mo Farah, heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill and long jumper Greg Rutherford.

American Allayson Felix failed to qualify for the 200m where she won gold in London but can top the podium in the 400m just as at last year‘s worlds. Merritt is however doubling up in the 200m and 400m.

But the US team also has another notable absentee in 100m hurdler Kendra Harrison who bettered the world record last month but failed to qualify for Rio.

The athletics events run until the closing day August 21 and for the first time feature finals apart from marathons and walks in the morning session, including the women‘s 10,000m and men‘s triple jump.

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