On the eve of the finale here of the 16-meet Mobil/IAAF Grand Prix track and field tour, it is clear that the highly publicized, highly paid circuit has taken an unexpectedly high toll in its first season.
Although this meet was expected to be one of the sport's premier events of the year -- rivaled only by the World Cup in Canberra, Australia, in October -- some of the world's greatest runners will be missing because of injuries incurred during an extremely long, trying season.
Not only are such top British runners as Steve Cram, Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett absent because of injuries, but so, also, is Brazil's Joaquim Cruz, the 800-meter Olympic gold medalist whose summer was marred by squabbles with race organizers.
Also missing will be Carl Lewis, the quadruple gold medal winner at the 1984 Olympics who, after getting off to a late and slow start this season because of a pulled hamstring muscle suffered at the start of the season, did not even qualify for the finals.
The most noticeable absence, however, is likely to be that of Morocco's Said Aouita, who during the course of the summer set world records for the 1,500 meters and 5,000 meters.
Ahead in the overall men's Grand Prix standings with 55 points and with the prospect of earning up to $35,000 in prize money if he could win his final 1,500-meter race, Aouita today declared he is doubtful for Saturday night because of a hamstring muscle he pulled.
Although race organizers insisted today that the Moroccan is still a posssible starter, a dejected Aouita said this morning, following a brief and painful workout at Rome's Olympic Stadium, that even if he did try to compete he probably could finish no better than fourth or fifth place.
With so many of the male stars out of action, the main attraction here is expected to be the women's 3,000 meters, which once again will feature three of the most exciting runners of the season -- Mary Decker Slaney of the United States, Maricica Puica of Romania and bare-footed Zola Budd of Britain.
The three raced together at the Los Angeles Olympics last year over the same distance. In that race, Slaney and Budd became entangled and Slaney fell. Budd finished seventh and Puica won the gold.
In the "Olympic Replay" in London, Slaney got a measure of revenge. She led from the start in winning in 8:32.91, well off the world record, but still three seconds faster than Puica's winning Olympic time. Puica did not compete, while Budd finished a distant fourth.
Slaney, who has had a magnificent summer, winning 12 consecutive races, proved her dominance over her chief rivals in August by setting a women's world record for the mile in a race in which she, Puica and Budd ran together for the first time since the Olympics.
For Slaney, who will be the favorite here against her two chief rivals, a win would go a long way toward erasing the bitter memories of Los Angeles and would clinch the women's overall Grand Prix championship. Slaney now leads with 51 points.
The other major event here is likely to be the pole vault, which will see Sergei Bubka, who vaulted a world-record 19 feet 8 1/4 inches this summer in Paris, challenged by two Frenchmen who are previous record holders, Thierry Vigneron and Pierre Quinon.