Defending Olympic champion Maria Mutola in Athens (Getty Images) © Copyright

Daily Olympic PREVIEW - Monday 23 August

Athens, GreeceWith one gold medal, one bronze and a fifth place finish from her four previous Games, Maria Mutola is already the most successful 800m runner in Olympic history. At 20.55 tomorrow night the powerful Mozambiquan will attempt to become the first ever to retain her Olympic title. Only one other athlete has ever medalled twice in this event, and that was the Cuban Ana Quirot who took a bronze and silver in 1992 and 1996.

Women’s 800m final

Mutola, who lost more than two weeks’ training this year because of a hamstring injury, did not look her usual dominant self in the semi-finals. Now 31, Mutola has made a hugely successful career out of dictating the pace of her races, whether running from the front or sitting on the shoulder of pace makers.

She could well have to scrap it out with the rest tomorrow, however, especially as Slovenia’s World Indoor record holder Jolanda Ceplak and Britain’s Olympic bronze medallist Kelly Holmes appear to be in such good shape. Holmes was the fastest qualifier in the semis with 1:57.98. How she would love to snatch her training partner’s title in an event she only decided to enter a week ago.

Mutola’s attempt to make history should be the highlight of the action, but medals will be won and lost in five other events on the fourth day of athletics – two track events, two field events and the women’s 20km walk.

Women’s 5000m final

The women’s 5000m final could bring the Ethiopian flags out again with teenagers, Tirunesh Dibaba and Sentayehu Ejigu, and their teammate Meseret Defar all strong contenders for the medals, along with their former compatriot and World record holder Elvan Abeylegesse, now of Turkey. Defar had the fastest qualifying time of 14:52.39, while World champion Dibaba and Ejigu clocked 15:00.66 and 15:01.31 respectively.

Men's 400m final

Many people have wondered who will don Michael Johnson’s mantle as the world’s greatest 400m runner. Few will ever match his records and achievements, but Jeremy Wariner could claim his Olympic crown. The young American is coached by the same man, Clyde Hart, and receives occasional advice from the World record holder.

The influence seems to be rubbing off as Wariner enters the men’s 400m final tomorrow evening looking a good bet for the gold. He ran a smooth 44.87, a tenth faster than anyone else, in the semis.

“I have not peaked yet,” he said ominously. “Nobody knows how it will look when I’m at my peak.”

Women's Triple Jump final

After her record-breaking performances at the World Indoor Championships earlier this year, Tatyana Lebedeva, will be a hot favourite for the women’s Triple Jump title. The Russian, who is also going for the Long Jump, was the favourite for gold in Sydney four years ago but had to settle for the silver medal in a final held in cold and wet conditions.

There is little chance of that being the case here, and Lebedeva looks to be in fine shape. She qualified with ease on Saturday evening but so too did Sudan’s Yamile Aldama and Hrisopiyi Devetzi, whose Greek record lit up the qualifying round. Aldama, the former Cuban, claimed a few weeks ago that she was in shape to break the World record, and with 14.80 in qualifying could be Lebedeva’s main challenger for the gold.

After 15 jumpers exceeded the automatic qualifying mark on Saturday, we could see a competition dotted with 15 metre plus jumps.

Men's Discus Throw final

The men’s Discus Throw is sure to be a battle between the reigning Olympic champion Virgilijus Alekna of Lithuania and Hungary’s European gold medalist Robert Fazekas. The Hungarian was the best overall qualifier from Saturday’s preliminaries with 68.10, while his Lithuanian rival was next furthest with 67.79.

“All you can do [in qualifying] is scare your opposition,” said Fazekas on Saturday. “But I do not think Alekna is someone who is easily scared by anything.”

‘Mr Discus’, Lars Reidel, the 1996 Olympic champion, and Estonian Aleksander Tammert were also in fine form, and will have their eyes on medals too.

Women's 20km Walk

The day will start at 9am with the women’s 20km Walk final, in which IAAF World champion Yelena Nikolayeva – top of IAAF World Rankings – will be favourite. The 38 year-old already has two Olympic medals, a silver and gold from 1992 and 1996 when the women walked only half the distance.

Indeed walking experts expect all the medals to go to either Russia or China. The Russian team includes 2001 IAAF World champion, Olimpiada Ivanova, while China have Jiang Jin and Song Hongjuan, the fastest in the world this year with 1:26:46. After Ivano Brugnetti’s shock win in the men’s event on Friday, Elisa Rigaudo, who tops the IAAF Race Walking standings, will be hoping to bring more medal success to Italy.

Decathlon - First day

The gruelling ten events of the Decathlon also get under way, kicking off with the 100m on Monday morning. By the time they get around to their fifth event, the 400m, at 21.20, we should know whether USA’s World champion Tomas Pappas or World record holder Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic is on course for the gold.

Squeezed in between all that medal action, we will also see the women’s 100m Hurdles semi-finals, the first two rounds of the women’s 200m, and the opening round of the men’s 400m Hurdles.

Matthew Brown for the IAAF