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Russians staying away in droves

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MOSCOW -- When Usain Bolt runs, he draws energy from the crowd. That's been tough to do in Moscow.

The world championships have struggled to draw track fans to the Luzhniki Stadium, the same venue that hosted the 1980 Olympics. Even with a reduced seating capacity and thousands of free tickets handed out, the locals in the Russian capital seem to have better things to do.

"Yeah, I noticed," said Bolt, who won the 100 metres Sunday. "Not every country is about track and field, a lot of countries are about football. It's my duty, and every other athlete here, to compete at your best so next time there's a full stadium."

Organizers released official attendance figures Tuesday stating that 40,461 spectators watched Bolt reclaim his 100 world title in 9.77 seconds. They said it was the highest attendance figure for athletics in Russia since the 1980 Olympics.

The second part is believable, the first part debatable.

Crowds at the morning sessions at past world championships were often underwhelming, but in Moscow they have been abysmal.

"You seem to be in a training session. This is not a healthy environment for us," said Mexican distance runner Diego Estrada, who came up with an idea to help organizers fill seats and also ease the congestion in his hotel lobby. "I would propose to bring all the people from the Cosmos to the stadium."

Doping

Although track and field has taken a hit by recent doping scandals, the sport still has Bolt as its headliner. And it was he who electrified the 2009 worlds in Berlin by breaking his own world records in the 100 and 200.

At last year's London Olympics, Bolt had some local help in Mo Farah and Jessica Ennis, but he was still the main attraction and helped draw in the packed crowds for every session.

Those are just distant memories now. "It's dead. It's like night and day from London," Dominican hurdler Felix Sanchez said. "There's no atmosphere."

The Luzhniki Stadium normally has room for more than 80,000 fans, but with large video screens and a huge area set aside for the world media, the capacity was greatly decreased. Add to that massive tapestries covering several sections of seats in the upper decks, and the stadium was reduced to 43,000 over the weekend and 34,000 since.

Tuesday's night session appeared to draw the biggest crowd so far, probably because Yelena Isinbayeva was competing in the pole vault.

The Russian great didn't disappoint, winning her third world title and drawing roars of approval every time she took off down the runway. Still, several thousand had left by the time she missed her final attempt at 5.07 metres, which would have been a world record.

 

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 14, 2013 D4

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