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Top athletes in Lausanne and on the net

Switzerland's André Bucher will be taking part in the 800 metres race Keystone

Tonight's Athletissima international athletics meeting in Lausanne is more significant than usual. Firstly, it's taking place in an Olympic year. And secondly, in a world first, the meeting will be shown live on the Internet.

Despite a number of notable absentees, eight Olympic and nine World Champions will be in action at the Pontaise Olympic stadium.

Those missing include a number of the favourites for Sydney. Marion Jones, Michael Johnson and Maurice Greene are all concentrating their efforts on qualifying for the US national Olympic squad.

But there will still be plenty of world-class performers for the discerning Lausanne crowd to admire. Given its famously fast track, the highlights are likely to be in the sprints. Indeed, Lausanne’s only world record was in the 100 metres six years ago, when Leroy Burrell clocked 9.85 seconds.

In this year’s 100 metres, Donovan Bailey of Canada takes on Ato Boldon of Trinidad and the Nigerian Francis Obikwelu, while Boldon and Obikwelu will also race in the 200m.

In the women’s sprints, much attention will be on France’s Marie-José Pérec, as she continues her comeback from injury in the 200 metres. In the 100m, Gail Devers, who is also competing in the 100m hurdles, will be up against Christine Arron of France and Ukraine’s Zhanna Pintusevich.

Most Swiss attention will be on the men’s 800 metres. Here, the Lucerne runner, André Bucher, will be testing himself against the new world indoor champions, Yuri Borzakovsky of Russia, and the in-form Algerian, Djabir Said-Guerni.

Two other Swiss hopes for Sydney, Anita Weyermann and Marcel Schelbert, will not be taking part.

Athletissima will also be witnessing the last performance in Lausanne by one of its favourites. The Ukrainian veteran, Sergei Bubka, is hanging up his pole at the end of the season, after a record-filled career. He will have his work cut out winning the pole vault competition, as he is up against Jeff Hartwig, the only man over six metres this season, and the world record holder, Maxim Tarasov.

It is not just the athletes that have one eye on Sydney. Athletissima will also be the testing ground of a new technical innovation that will be used at the Olympics. For the first time, the meeting will be transmitted live on the internet, thanks to a Swiss company.

“It is good publicity for the meeting,” says Athletissima spokesman Pierre-André Pasche.

“InMotion Technologies, the company in charge of the project, wanted to conduct an experiment before the Olympic Games, where they will be working with NBC. They decided on Athletissima, as it’s a good international meeting,” Pasche told swissinfo.

The new technology, the result of a collaboration between the Fribourg-based InMotion and Swisscom, allows the viewer not only to follow the action, but also to analyse and compare the performances of different athletes. Such camerawork, developed by InMotion was used at last year’s World Alpine Skiing Championship, in Vail, Colorado.

At Athletissima, InMotion will concentrate on field events – the men’s pole vault, the men’s long jump and the women’s high jump.

“You can click, for example, on the long jump camera and superimpose two athletes, as if they were jumping at the same time. You can compare their styles, and you can see what made one athlete better than another,” Pasche explains.

This innovation did not meet with everyone’s approval. French-language Swiss television, TSR, has the rights to live coverage, and was upset about the new arrangement.

“The contract with TSR doesn’t mention the possibility of working with the internet. TSR didn’t think Athletissima was allowed to sign another contract. But it should have thought of that when it signed the contract two years ago,” says Pasche.

It seems that the television station has learned its lesson: “From now on, we’ll incorporate internet right into our contracts,” says Jacques Deschenaux, head of TSR’s sports department.

by Roy Probert

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR