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Athletics-Powell takes centre stage

Written by: Staff
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MELBOURNE, March 17 (Reuters) Asafa Powell, the fastest man in the world, will be the main attraction in a depleted Commonwealth Games athletics programme which starts on Sunday.

The burly Jamaican is the headline act at the Melbourne Cricket Ground after the withdrawal of several big names including English long-distance runner Paula Radcliffe.

The world marathon champion was due to run the 10,000 metres but pulled out after hurting her foot in training and deciding to concentrate on preparing for next month's London marathon.

A spate of withdrawals forced organisers to admit today that they had lost leading athletes to other events offering big prize money and appearance fees.

''There is always those people who are lured by huge purses and we don't blame them,'' Melbourne 2006 chairman Ron Walker told a news conference today.

The men's and women's marathons kick off the athletics programme on Sunday.

A fleet of imposing Kenyans stand in the way of Australia repeating its clean sweep in the women's marathon in Manchester four years ago, with Kerryn McCann the oldest member of the team at 38 hoping to defend her gold medal.

Australians Andrew Letherby, Shane Nankervis and Scott Westcott are hoping to beat one of the Games's longest-standing records, Englishman Ian Thompson's 1974 time of two hours nine minutes 12 seconds.

As the marathon runners sweat through Melbourne's streets, all eyes will turn to the MCG track as Powell runs in the 100m heats.

Powell broke broke Tim Montgomery's three-year-old record with a time of 9.77 last June before a groin injury forced him out of the world championships.

INJURY FEARS He dispelled any lingering injury fears, however, when he comfortably won an IAAF warm-up event last week, easing down over the closing stages for a time of 10.29.

MORE REUTERS DH PM1601

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