It seems odd that it should be happening in the run-up to a Games organised by Sebastian Coe, but I can't help thinking that athletics' crown as the pre-eminent Olympic sport is slipping.

Until now, the phenomenon that is Usain Bolt had covered this up.

But Daegu has afforded us a glimpse of the world without the Jamaican showman.

And for the most part, it ain't pretty.

Sure, some events have provided fine sport.

My personal favourite to date - not for the first time - has been the pole-vault.

And the amplified shhhhhhs used by the organisers to ensure quiet as sprinters prepare to get down on their blocks are a delightful idea.

But then you think that the 5.90 metres attained by gold medallist Paweł Wojciechowski (pictured) of Poland is 25cm less than the best achieved in competition by Sergey Bubka, who may end up vying with Coe to be the sport's next boss, and reality starts to seep in.

It is surely not a healthy thing that the biggest talking point after the first few days' competition in Korea has been the sport's false-start rules.

Of course, Bolt may show up in London and gouge further lumps out of the 100 and 200 metres world records he has already abused so badly.

But what if he doesn't? What then would live in the memory about the 2012 Olympic athletics competition?

Oscar Pistorius maybe? Caster Semenya?

The problem with both these "stories", tough as it is on the athletes concerned, is that debate tends to focus on the nature of fair competition, as opposed to the wonder of their athletic achievements.

Or perhaps David Rudisha will cruise to another world record in the men's 800m.

The problem with that story is that "Kenyan wins long-ish running race" is not the sort of headline that any longer sets pulses racing far beyond Nairobi.

Now turn your mind to the competition.

In the pool, you have the enticing prospect of veterans Ian Thorpe and Janet Evans on the comeback trail, as well as Michael Phelps (pictured) trying to add further to his astonishing collection of Olympic metalwork.

That and local hero Tom Daley aiming to dive for gold.

There is the return to the Olympics of women's boxing after more than a century.

And the possibility of seeing Roger Federer bow out by winning gold at Wimbledon.

From the host nation's perspective, there is the question of whether 2008's hard-won supremacy in the velodrome can be maintained - and indeed extended to the water, with both British rowing and sailing teams exhibiting immense medal-winning potential.

Olympic team sports are on an upswing too, with the basketball competition firmly established as one of the highlights of the Games and football attracting ever more attention.

The novelty of seeing British football teams take to the field should ensure that the 2012 football competition is particularly enthusiastically supported.

Even if Bolt does do the business at London, it is hard to imagine his exploits having quite the same impact as in Beijing's stunning Bird's Nest four years ago, simply because it would be a re-run of an old story.

And who will take up his mantle in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, when the alternative attractions promise to be still more compelling, with the arrival of golf and rugby sevens on the Olympic programme?

No, I sincerely believe that athletics will have to somehow raise its game if it is to remain much longer at the head of the Olympic pantheon.

I think Daegu this week is starting to make that clear.

Source: www.insidethegames.biz


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