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Women's 100m PREVIEW

cut favourite, and probable finalists who'll vary in age from 20 to 44, the wide-open nature of the women's 100m has the makings to be one of the finest in Olympic history.

European record holder Christine Arron of France arrives in Athens undefeated outdoors this year, a streak that includes wins in Zurich (11.06), Paris (11.10), the French national championships (10.95 - SB) and Lausanne (11.01). No other probable finalists can boast that sort of momentum as competition begins on August 20.

But Arron's recent wins have been narrow ones. In both Paris and Zurich, she edged triple Commonwealth gold medallist Debbie Ferguson by a mere 1/100 of second. The 28-year-old Ferguson, who anchored the Bahamian "Golden Girls" to 400m gold in Sydney, has displayed the strongest closing strength of any sprinter the last month.

No woman has ever won three Olympic 100 metres titles. At a sprightly 37 years of age, Gail Devers (11.05 and 11.11 this season) will be attempting to make history, hoping to add to her 1992 and 1996 wins.

A sentimental favourite for athletics fans throughout the world will undoubtedly be 44-year-old Merlene Ottey, who will compete in her seventh Olympic Games, a record for appearances on the world's biggest stage for a track & field athlete.

An eight-time Olympic medallist for Jamaica but now representing Slovenia, for which she set a national record 11.09 two weeks ago, her appearance is not mere novelty.

For both Devers and Ottey, who were each credited with a 10.94 in the 1996 final won by Devers, both have very legitimate chances of reaching the final, where, as the saying goes, “Anything can happen.”

U.S. Trials winner LaTasha Colander made dramatic strides this season after a move from the 400, but, hampered by minor injuries, has raced little since her 10.97 in Sacramento. American newcomer Lauryn Williams, last year's Pan-American Games champion and this year's NCAA champion (PB 10.97), continued her impressive season with an 11.10 performance at the U.S. trials to earn her ticket to Athens.

Other potential finalists include Ukrainian Yuliya Nestorenko, who, after running a national record 11.02 last month, finds herself on the cusp of sub-11 territory; and a pair of extremely quick 20-year-olds, world leader Ivet Lalova (10.77) of Bulgaria and Jamaican Sherone Simpson (11.01), who will test their talent on the world’s biggest stage.