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World Athletics Championships Underway in Helsinki

Track and Field athletes from around the world are in Helsinki, Finland for the World Athletics Championships. Nine days of competition are being held in Olympic Stadium, the venue for the 1952 Games and the first athletics world championships in 1983.

Athletics is the national sport of Finland, where an estimated 2.52 million fans have embraced the competition since runner Paavo Nurmi enjoyed his Olympic success in 1920.

The 40,000 seat Olympic Stadium is expected to be filled to capacity during the nine days of events, and it again came to life Saturday as the championships officially opened to the music of the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra.

About 1,800 athletes are taking part in front of an estimated global television audience of more than four billion viewers in a record 192 nations. Even viewers in the United States, where track and field has had lukewarm interest, will get the chance to see about 60 hours of televised events.

Spectators will be watching as elite athletes try for world records. Along with the prestige, anyone who sets a new world mark will earn a $100,000 bonus.

American John Godina, a three-time world champion in shot put, failed to qualify for the finals in Helsinki. Instead, teammate and perennial silver medalist Adam Nelson delivered a gold medal throw of 21.73 meters.

Women's world marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe was hoping for a 10,000 meter title. She did not finish the event at the Athens Olympics last year, and Radcliffe again faded badly at Helsinki's Olympic Stadium. She placed ninth after leading for the first half and briefly surging to the front with 10 laps remaining.

But she says the race was still a good tuneup for the women's marathon on August 14.

"Unfortunately it was very windy," she explained. "So I could not frontrun and make it as hard as I wanted to. But I wanted to run the race to enjoy it and give it a good go. And the main preparation was for the marathon, to sharpen up for that."

Three Ethiopians topped the podium in the women's 10,000 meter, led by Tirunesh Dibaba (30:24.02).

The men's 20-kilometer race walk through the city streets was won by Jefferson Perez of Ecuador in 01:18:35.

In preliminary events, American Elizabeth Jackson ran in the women's 3,000 meter steeplechase, an event being contested for the first time at the World Championships. Jackson qualified for the finals on Monday and was thrilled to be a part of the inaugural running.

"The only meet that is bigger than this is the Olympics," she said. "And so it is the next closest thing and, of course, it is just so much fun to be here."

Olympic 100 meter champion Justin Gatlin of the United States cruised into the semifinals with a time of 10.27 seconds. While he won his qualifying heat, Darrel Brown of Trinidad posted the fastest time of the day in 10.1 seconds. The men's 100 meter final highlights action on Sunday.