With majority of tickets sold, Worlds set to be big success

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With majority of tickets sold, Worlds set to be big success

With 12 months to go before the Summer Games begin in London and three years until the FIFA World Cup of football travels to Brazil, the World Championships in Athletics is shining a spotlight on Daegu as a master organizer of world-class pedigree.

It is expected to set a new record in terms of attending athletes from tomorrow to Sept. 4, with 1,945 athletes from 202 countries taking part. The previous record of 1,895 was set two years ago in Berlin.

Of the 212 IAAF members, only 10 countries and regions have refused to field a single competitor. They are North Korea, Andorra, Jordan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Nepal, Norfolk Island, Libya, Georgia and Montserrat.

However, the event is already heating up, with a number of star athletes flocking to Daegu, 300 kilometers (186 miles) southeast of Seoul, days ago to test their speed, strength and endurance ahead of the start of competitions.

Australia was the first to pitch up on Aug. 10, bringing two reigning world champs in the form of male pole vaulter Steve Hooker and female discus thrower Dani Samuels.

Usain Bolt, who holds the world record in the 100 meters and 200 meters, arrived on Tuesday to defend his title, around the same time as pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia. Some, like world high jump champion Blanka Vlasic of Croatia, came despite injuries - in her case, a partially torn muscle in her left leg.

This is the first time the Worlds will be hosted on the Asian mainland, although Japan has played host twice, first in 1991, in Tokyo, then in 2007, in Osaka.

However, organizers are confident they can deliver a successful event by drawing on their experience of hosting the 1988 Olympics and 2002 World Cup.

"I'm delighted that the Korean national government designated the 2011 IAAF World Championships as a 'Major National Project,'" IAAF President Lamine Diack said earlier this month. "It is clear that Korea has warmly embraced these championships, and so we are more than confident that Daegu can deliver."

Since the city was named to host the 13th World Championships in Athletics at the IAAF Council Meeting in Mombasa, Kenya on March 27, 2007, Koreans have been putting their best feet forward to present a sterling event.

From building an athletes' village for the first time at a Worlds to laying down a blue "Mondo Track" inside Daegu Stadium, various facilities have been added to keep athletes in top shape.

Meanwhile, a total of 6,133 volunteers will serve as interpreters and tournament guides for visitors, while free shuttle services to the main stadium and extended buses and subway trains should help ease traffic congestion.

The National Police Agency has sent SWAT teams to the city's international airport to beef up security, and more than 80 officers have been deployed there on round-the-clock security operations.

In addition, the city government has set up first-aid stations around the city and designated 22 local hospitals, with a total of 267 beds, as isolation institutions if any highly contagious diseases break out. The Daegu branch of the Korea Food and Drug Administration (KFDA) also announced it will send 132 food inspectors to the athletes’ village, competition and practice facilities, and major food and beverage distributors until Sept. 7.

"We’re almost perfectly ready," Cho Hae-nyoung, co-president of the organizing committee, said on Monday.

“The one thing left for us to do is to fill Daegu Stadium. We have sold 94 percent of our tickets, the highest rate in the history of the World Championships, and we’re confident of having a full house,” he added, speaking before an executive committee meeting of the IAAF.

Track and field is far from huge in Korea and there were initial concerns the event could prove a flop in the country. But the IAAF and organizers have consistently voiced their belief that it will be a great success, and will help change perceptions of track and field throughout Asia.

"That the championships are being held in Korea is by no means a matter of concern," Diack said. "It is quite the contrary, as it presents the IAAF and the sport of athletics in general with a great opportunity to cross new boundaries and develop our sport further.

Korean President Lee Myung-bak said the World Championships would greatly increase the global awareness of Daegu and boost its image. "It is important to see Bolt setting a record, but we will get more than that," Lee said during a visit to Daegu Stadium two weeks ago. "I firmly believe that the Daegu athletics championships will be a huge success."

By Joo Kyung-don [kjoo@joongang.co.kr]
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