Athletics:Felix gets quest for titles record under way

MOSCOW - United States sprint great Alysson Felix had a gentle run out in her first round heat at the World Athletics Championships on Thursday as she got her campaign for a fourth 200 metres title under way.

The 27-year-old Olympic champion - who took silver in the event in Daegu in 2011 - can become the most successful athlete in the championships' history if she wins the title on Friday for her ninth gold.

At present Felix shares the record with legendary compatriots Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson while Jamaican Usain Bolt can equal the eight gold mark if he wins the 200m and Jamaica take the 4x100m relay.

Felix - who has five relay golds - will face a tough fight for her crown from Jamaica's Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, who is bidding for a sprint double after regaining her 100m title.

Fraser-Pryce, who won the women's 100m world title by the largest margin in the history of the world championships, blazed a lone trail through her heat, coming off the bend well clear and then eased up 60m from the finish.

However, both Fraser-Pryce and Felix will do well to keep an eye out for Ivory Coast's Murielle Ahoure, whose silver medal in the 100m on Monday was the first time that an African sprinter had won a medal in the women's event.

The 25-year-old - known in her country as 'the female Drogba' - won her heat in a gentle canter and looks capable of also becoming the first African to win a 200m medal.

Nigeria's Blessing Okagabare could also achieve that.

Bidding to reach her third final of the championships - having taken silver in the long jump and was out of the medals in the 100m - the 24-year-old moved into the semi-finals winning her heat beating American Charonda Williams.

The Nigerian - who trains in the United States with 2011 100m world champion Carmelita Jeter - admitted wear and tear was setting in on her body.

"My legs aren't feeling as fresh obviously as they were the first day of competition," said Okagabare.

"As regards what I can do in this event? Well, I take each round as it comes, otherwise it is too much for my brain."

That quartet will have more testing runs later on Thursday in the semi-finals.

Russia look to have a strong hand in the women's 800m as all four of their powerful team qualified for Friday's semi-finals.

Their leading hope defending champion Mariya Savinova, bidding for a sixth successive major title, finished third in her heat which was the fastest of the lot, and was won by American Brenda Martinez.

Savinova, who won Olympic gold last year, had to push herself a bit to ensure she finished in the first three - the automatic qualifying spots for the semi-finals - in the sprint finish and she edged out Kenyan Winny Chebet.

Chebet was to go through as one of the fastest losers.

Another American Alysia Johnson Montano won her heat as well impressively.

The 27-year-old - who sported a bright red flower in her hair, a habit she adopted when as a youngster she trained with boys and wanted to retain her femininity - is seeking to secure a medal here after finishing fourth and fifth in the 2011 world final and Olympics, respectively.

Russian Marina Pospelova took second and her two compatriots Ekaterina Poistogova and Elena Kotulskaya also went on to finish second in their heats and keep alive the hopes of the home crowd of a medals cleansweep.

The hosts will also be looking to the women's high jump as a gold medal target. All three of their contenders qualified for the final including poster girl and defending champion Anna Chicherova.

However, Chicherova's predecessor as Russia's number one the 2004 Olympic champion Yelena Slesarenko found the return to top level competition - after having a baby last year - beyond her.

The 31-year-old - who took the event up after failing as a ballet dancer - could only jump a best of 1.83 metres, way short of the qualifying mark of 1.92m.