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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Meet Shows City Can Put on a Show

APU.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin crossing the finish line to win the 100 meters at the Moscow Challenge at Luzhniki Stadium on Saturday. The win netted Gatlin a $500,000 prize.
A former Miss World, the Red Army Choir and a $1 million race -- it was athletics Moscow style.

The Moscow Challenge meet on Saturday was an opportunity for the host of the 1980 Olympics -- and one of nine cities bidding for the 2012 Games -- to prove it still has what it takes to put on a good show.

"We've got a stage that probably cost a king's ransom to put together with an opening ceremony that would grace any major championship," British manager John Regis said. "These guys are very serious about what they do."

Former Miss World Oksana Fyodorova added a touch of glamour to the opening ceremony, welcoming an estimated 30,000 spectators to the vast Luzhniki Stadium.

And the Red Army Choir belted out an extended version of Russia's rousing national anthem -- keeping the athletes standing a long time in the crisp evening air. The choir later accompanied local rock group Moralny Kodeks in a rendition of the Beatles hit "Back in the U.S.S.R."

With $2.4 million in total prize money, the eight-event meet attracted some of the world's best athletes. The men's 100 meters had a prize package of $1 million -- one of the biggest in the history of the sport, with half going to winner Justin Gatlin of the United States.

State Sports Committee chief Vyacheslav Fetisov thanked Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov for the dry weather -- Luzhkov is famous for guaranteeing rain-free events by having threatening clouds dispersed with chemical agents. However, not even Luzhkov could stop temperatures dropping to a chilly 7 degrees Celsius.

Gatlin upset world champion Kim Collins and world-record holder Tim Montgomery to win the 100 meters. Gatlin, the world indoor 60 meters champion, ran a modest 10.05 seconds on the chilly night.

European 100 meters champion Dwain Chambers of Britain was a distant second in 10.18, with U.S. sprinter Montgomery third in 10.19.

Asked what will he do with the money Gatlin said, "I don't know yet. Maybe buy a house and put the rest in a bank to collect the interest. This is by far the biggest payoff of my career."

Chryste Gaines was the only runner to go under 11 seconds in the women's 100 meters, sealing a one-sided victory over a strong field that included world 100 and 200 meters champion Kelli White. The 33-year-old Gaines clocked 10.98 seconds to win a $75,000 bonus.

France's Christine Arron was a distant second in 11.18, while Gaines' compatriot White settled for third in 11.21.

Morocco's Hicham El Guerrouj had a much harder time in the 1,500 meters, edging out Kenya's Paul Korir by just four hundredths of a second.

The four-time world 1,500 meters champion posted three minutes and 36.44 seconds, while Korir ran 3:36.48.

The race in the men's 800 meters was even closer, with Yury Borzakovsky of Russia beating Kenya's Wilfried Bungei in a photo finish by 1/100 of a second, 1:46.67 to 1:46.68.

World triple jump champion Tatyana Lebedeva won the women's long jump with a personal best of 6.82 meters. The Russian beat long jump world champion Eunice Barber of France and silver-medalist Tatyana Kotova of Russia, who jumped 6.72 and 6.63, respectively.

Vita Palamar won the women's high jump by clearing 1.96 meters, with fellow Ukrainian Inga Babakova and Sweden's Kajsa Bergqvist ending up tied for second with 1.92.

Maria Mutola of Mozambique easily won the 800 meters in a time of 1:58.82.

World triple jump champion Christian Olsson of Sweden was the only man to go over 17 meters, posting a respectable 17.34 on his second attempt.

Officials have been careful not to promote Saturday's event as part of Moscow's bid to host the 2012 Olympics -- official campaigning is not permitted until next year. Deputy Mayor Valery Shantsev, however, made no attempt to disguise Moscow's motives.

"In the Moscow Challenge we see the first sign that the Olympic Games will come to our city," he said in the opening ceremony.

Paris and New York are currently favorites to host the 2012 Games. The other bidders include Havana, Cuba; Istanbul, Turkey; Leipzig, Germany; Madrid, Spain; London; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The IOC will select the host city in July 2005.

The Moscow meeting ended in even greater pomp than it began. Crowned and robed in gold, the eight winners were whisked away on horse-drawn carriages. At a closing press conference they were full of praise for the event and the spectators.

"I felt the crowd," Gatlin said. "They were always there for me."

But despite heavy promotion and the presence of several world and Olympic champions, the competition failed to attract much public interest. The 83,000-seat stadium was only half full with teenage spectators, who were driven to the arena in buses to fill the space.

(Reuters, AP)