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Usain Bolt expects the best in Stockholm

Usain Bolt was beaten by American rival Tyson Gay in the 100 in Stockholm last year, his only loss of the season and his first at the distance in two years.

The Jamaican star headlines the field at the Diamond League event, his last scheduled race before the world championships next month in South Korea.

The world and Olympic champion was beaten by American rival Tyson Gay in the 100 in Stockholm last year, his only loss of the season and his first at the distance in two years. At the same venue in 2008, Bolt lost to fellow Jamaican Asafa Powell in the 100.

Also Friday, world 400 champion LaShawn Merritt returns to the track after his 21-month doping ban expired Wednesday. South African runner Caster Semenya will attempt to defend her title in the 800.

Bolt will run the 200 this time — his favourite event — and he’s confident of picking up his first race win at Stockholm’s Olympic Stadium.

“You can always expect the best from me,” he said Thursday. “I always go out and compete at my best and always do extremely well over 200 meters, so I’m looking forward to it. I’m not really worried about this one.”

Bolt is the fastest man over 200 meters this season, clocking 19.86 seconds at the Oslo Diamond League meet in June. But that is still some way off his world record of 19.19.

The 24-year-old Jamaican said he is happy with his progress as he prepares to defend his 100 and 200 titles at the world championships, which begin Aug. 27.

“I need to work a little bit more on my start. But technical wise, I’m definitely doing better,” Bolt said. “My technique over 200 meters is always the best, so you can look for something great always.”

While Bolt is honing his preparations for worlds, defending 400 champion LaShawn Merritt of the United States is making his return to the track after his 21-month doping ban expired Wednesday.

“Stockholm, Sweden…THE SCENE,” Merritt tweeted Thursday.

The 2008 Olympic champion was suspended after he tested positive for a banned substance found in a male-enhancement product. He appealed and an arbitration panel knocked three months off his two-year ban after ruling that he had not used the product to gain a competitive advantage.

He has been cleared to run at the world championships despite missing the United States trials after USA Track and Field granted him a waiver. His eligibility for next year’s London Olympics remains in limbo pending a ruling by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which has a hearing scheduled on Aug. 17.

Merritt will be up against world leader Rondell Bartholomew of Grenada and American hurdles specialist Angelo Taylor.

Also making a first Diamond League appearance of the season will be pole vault world-record holder Yelena Isinbayeva.

The two-time Olympic and world champion took a break from competition last year and skipped the inaugural Diamond League season. She returned to outdoor competition in July.

Other world championship hopefuls in action in Stockholm include Carmelita Jeter and David Oliver.

The Stockholm meet is offering a diamond worth $10,000 to anyone who breaks a stadium record.

American sprinter Jeter will target the time of 10.90 over 100 meters set by Irina Privalova of Russia in 1994. The 31-year-old Jeter set the fastest time in the world this year in 10.70.

Jeter, a world bronze medalist two years ago, faces competition from fellow American Marshever Myers and Kerron Stewart of Jamaica.

Oliver had been looking forward to a 110 hurdles showdown against world-record holder Dayron Robles. However, the Cuban has withdrawn from the meet because of an injury.

Semenya is featured among a strong 800 lineup with nine other runners who have clocked under 1 minute, 59 seconds this season.

Semenya leads the Diamond League standings, but Halima Hachlaf of Morocco, Kenia Sinclair of Jamaica and Alysia Montano of the United States have all posted faster times this season.

“I do not think about the other runners when I compete,” the 20-year-old Semenya said. “I focus on what I must do.”

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