By Gene Cherry
(Reuters) - Olympic and world champions will gather in the Bahamas this weekend for a special global meeting that has no field events or individual competitions but the promise of world records and rich cash prizes.
The inaugural IAAF World Relays are all about speed as Jamaicans Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Yohan Blake join Kenyan double world champion Asbel Kiprop and a host of other world-class runners in challenging global records in the men's and women's 4x100 meters, 4x200m, 4x400m, 4x800m and 4x1,500m relays.
"We are trying to create something very fun and very different," Paul Hardy, competitions director for the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), told Reuters in a telephone interview.
The world governing body decided several years ago it needed a team competition to add to its series of global events, and relays, always popular with fans, seemed to fit the bill, Hardy said.
Relay loving Bahamas will host the 2014 and 2015 competitions with the event likely to go to a two-year cycle after that.
More than 500 runners from 42 nations are expected for this weekend's competition in Nassau's sold-out Robinson Stadium with $1.4 million in prize money and lots of bragging rights at stake.
The emphasis will be on breaking world records in events outside the traditional 4x100m and 4x400m relays, which are the staple events at the Olympics and world championships.
"Those are the events where we are very likely to see records...the 4x8, 4x15, 4x2," Hardy said.
Kenya's women already have broken the 4x1500m world record this year and are hoping for even more improvement.
Kiprop and the Kenyan men do not expect to be outdone, aiming to smash their country's 2009 world record in the 4x1500m. Ethiopia looms as their biggest challengers.
Record breakers will pocket $50,000 in addition to the $50,000 going to the winners of each of the 10 events.
The world's fastest man Usain Bolt, who has yet to launch his season, will miss the competition, but a bounty of speedsters will be on hand.
Jamaican Blake, the world's second-fastest runner at 200m and co-number two at 100m, will join forces with Olympic relay gold medalists Nesta Carter, Michael Frater and Kemar Bailey-Cole in the 4x100m. The experienced Nickel Ashmeade, Oshane Bailey and Warren Weir also will be available for the 4x100m or 4x200m.
Jamaican women will be equally fast as Olympic and world champion Fraser-Pryce headlines a 4x100m squad that won the 2013 world championship. She also is expected in the 4x200m.
The U.S. again should challenge, but men's sprint relays from France, Britain and Canada likely will also be in the mix, Hardy said.
The Americans will miss Justin Gatlin, Carmelita Jeter and Allyson Felix in the sprint relays, they should be much stronger in the 4x400m with world gold medalist LaShawn Merritt and past Olympic and world champion Sanya Richards-Ross headlining teams.
Homestanding Bahamas look to make the podium too with their gold-medal winning Olympic 4x400m team returning in force and a young women's 4x200m team hoping to be in the medals hunt.
(Reporting by Gene Cherry in Raleigh, North Carolina; editing by Julian Linden)