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Top athletes prepare for battle in Zurich

Zurich's track and field events attract the best athletes every year

(Keystone)

Five days after the end of the world athletics championships in Finland, Zurich is hosting the annual Weltklasse meeting at the city's Letzigrund stadium.

Fifteen newly crowned world champions are set to take part in the Golden League meeting, facing athletes looking for revenge after coming second best in Helsinki.

The main event will be the men's 100m sprint, although the planned duel between American world champion Justlin Gatlin and world-record holder Asafa Powell has been called off. The Jamaican is still suffering from an injury that forced him to pull out of the world championships.

The women's sprint will be a Helsinki rematch, with France's Christine Arron seeking revenge for losing to American Lauryn Williams in Finland.

There will be plenty of spectators to cheer them on. As usual, all 22,000 tickets were sold out before the big day.

Most of the attention will stay with the international stars. Little is expected of the Swiss athletes competing on Friday night.

André Bucher, the 2001 800m world champion, will be taking on strong opponents in his event and is unlikely to keep up the pace.

Media attention

Despite the presence of so many high-calibre athletes, the organisers will be pinning their hopes on some outstanding performances to raise athletics' media profile. The Golden League, which is used to market the six most important athletics meetings in Europe, has failed to convince sponsors.

Faced with increased competition from football and Formula One, which are taking more and more funds in the shape of rebroadcasting fees, athletics is struggling to attract attention from television networks.

But the Zurich organisers still have a few aces up their sleeve - with just under SFr6 million ($4.72 million) to play with – and they regularly manage to attract top athletes.

The meeting's success is based on a mix of the best competitors, a strong media presence, wealthy sponsors and faithful spectators.

The organisers have always been proud of putting on what they feel is the world's best athletics meeting. But they know they will have to do better in future since the International Association of Athletics Federations ranked Zurich behind the Van Damme Memorial in Brussels.

Tourism boost

Organising one of the best-known athletics competitions in the world also has a few advantages for Zurich. Once a year, the spotlight is on the city for three hours, when it becomes known as a "cool sports town", according to Maurus Lauber of Zurich Tourism.

While it is hard to estimate how much revenue the meeting generates for the city, Lauber told swissinfo the media coverage was invaluable for Zurich's image.

"If there is a world record or year's best performance, it is announced around the world and it gives our image a valuable boost," he said.

The success of the event is also good news for local athletes.

Around SFr500,000 flows into the local athletics club's coffers, money that is used to finance training for up-and-coming athletes.

swissinfo, Renat Künzi

Key facts

The Weltklasse meeting in Zurich took place for the first time in 1928.
23 world records have been set during the meeting.
Budget in 2005: SFr5.8 million.
Sponsors (including televsion rights) pay for 80 per cent of costs.
The event is broadcast to 150 countries.
465 media representatives have received accreditation.

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In brief

The Golden League, the series involving the six most important athletics meetings in Europe, will take place for the last time next year.

An athlete who wins his or her event at all six meetings takes home a prize worth $1 million.

After three competitions, only two athletes are still in the race to win the jackpot: Christine Arron and Russia's triple-jumper Tatiana Lebedeva.

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