By Ryland James
BERLIN - Olympic champions Yelena Isinbayeva and Kenenisa Bekele are set to join in the hunt for the Golden League's one-million-dollar jackpot when the series starts at Berlin's Olympic Stadium on Sunday.
Beijing sprint king Usain Bolt will be absent, but Croatia's world high-jump champion Blanka Vlasic, plus double Olympic javelin gold medallist Andreas Thorkildsen of Norway, will also be competing in Berlin.
The challenge for the athletes who start any of the 10 jackpot events is to win at all six Golden League meetings to claim a share of the pot.
Kenyan middle-distance runner Pamelo Jelimo was the outright millionaire winner last season, but American one-lap specialist Sanya Richards is bidding to become only the second woman to capture a piece of the Jackpot for a third time.
Richards, a 4x400 relay gold medallist from Beijing, will have Russian rivals Yuliya Gushchina and Tatyana Firova, plus Amantle Montsho of Botswana to push her in the 400m.
Olympic 100m gold medallist Kerron Stewart of Jamaica will lead the field in Berlin, while in the men's event 22-year-old Daniel Bailey of Antigua has dropped below the 10 second mark this season.
In the men's full-lap event three Beijing Olympic finalists will reunite in Chris Brown of the Bahamas, Leslie Djhone of France, and Swede Johan Wissman while Olympic champion LeShawn Merritt will stay away from Berlin.
Ethiopia's world record holder Bekele will race in the 5000m, but the double Olympic champion arrives in the German capital as an unknown quantity in 2009 having been sidelined for the indoor season with an injury thigh.
But his credentials certainly speak for themselves with 14 world titles and three Olympic golds, and he has been the fastest in the world over 5000m every year since 2004.
Bekele brings an 11-race win streak in the event to Berlin, one which dates back to July of 2006, but will be under pressure from the Kenyans in a formidable field.
Edwin Soi will lead the Kenyan challenge and the Olympic bronze medallist is in good form, while Moses Masai, the fourth place finisher in the Olympic 10,000m, returns to Berlin to defend his ISTAF title.
A year ago he clocked his career best 12 mins 50.55 seconds on the Olympic Stadium track which will host the world championships in August.