LONDON -- The Olympic cauldron, that bouquet of flames that illuminated the opening ceremonies last week, has been moved aside to make way for track and field, the original sport of the Games.
Shot-putters and heptathletes took over the Olympic Stadium infield as the sport that yields the most medals at the Olympics got going Friday with two finals and a hint of whats to come in the 100 meters.
While Michael Phelps bids adieu and gymnasts prepare for event finals, the focus shifts to the glamour sprints, Oscar Pistorius historic run in the 400 meters and Jessica Ennis attempt to be the golden girl before the home crowd.
Carmelita Jeter qualified first with a blazing 10.83 in the womens 100 heats. Allyson Felix, who is running the 100-200 double, qualified with a 11.01 and Tianna Madison advanced in 10.97. Jamaicas Veronica Campbell-Brown was third-fastest after Nigerias Blessing Okagbare and Jamaicas Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce clocked 11.00. Rounding out the top eight was Kelly-Ann Baptiste of Trindad and Tobago and Murielle Ahoure of Ivory Coast and the University of Miami.
An intriguing final awaits Saturday. Jeter, 32, owns the second-fastest time in history, second only to Florence Griffith-Joyner, but an aura of doping suspicion surrounds her despite her clean record. Felix has been denied gold in the 200 by Campbell-Brown in the last two Olympics.
We do enjoy racing each other, Campbell-Brown said of the U.S.-Jamaica rivalry.
The men will test the track with two qualifying rounds Saturday. If the final eight shapes up as expected Sunday, it will be the most dazzling Olympic field in history. Jamaicas Usain Bolt, the Worlds Fastest Man and holder of three world records in the 100, 200 and 400 relay, says he wants to be a legend, and a triple gold repeat remains his goal.
Bolt will have to run harder than he did in Beijing, when he spent the last 10 meters celebrating and still won easily. He lowered his times at the 2009 world championships but hasnt had a great season since. He false-started in the 100 at the 2011 worlds, and Yohan Blake became the youngest to win the event. At Jamaicas Olympic trials in June, Bolt lost twice to Blake, his training partner in Kingston.
Bolt has been working on his start, the weakest part of his race given his 6-5 height, and the one-and-done false start rule might cause him further hesitation.
He has been bothered by tender hamstrings and a stiff lower back, recurring problems because he has scoliosis.
Blake, who wore a T-shirt that said Eat My Dust at a press conference, has emerged as co-favorite. But Tyson Gay, who trains in Florida, has the second fastest time ever and has recovered fully from hip surgery. Justin Gatlin, the 2004 Olympic champion, is back after a four-year doping ban with a lot to prove. Jamaicas Asafa Powell is former world record-holder. Richard Thompson of Trinidad and Tobago cant be underestimated. Watch out for Kirani James of Grenada, out to win the islands first Olympic medal.
U.S. athletes should win medals in every event that is 400 meters long or less, but in Beijing, they were upstaged by the Jamaicans, who won the mens and womens 100 and 200 (they swept the womens 100) and the mens 400 relay. Look for U.S. success in the 400 (LaShawn Merritt, Sanya Richards-Ross), mens 400 hurdles (Angelo Taylor, Kerron Clement) and sprint hurdles (Jason Richardson, Lolo Jones).