Monday August 17th, 2009

BERLIN -- On a night when Jamaica's women's speedsters confirmed the country's sprinting preeminence at the world championships in Berlin, the top female athlete in track and field was a stunning disappointment. Shelly-Ann Fraser and Kerron Stewart went one-two in the women's 100 meters on Monday, leaving no doubt as to which country has the world's fastest humans just 24 hours after Usain Bolt decimated the world record in the men's hundred. On the same track, Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva, the sport's female athlete of the year in three of the past five years, no-heighted, allowing Poland's Anna Rogowska to capture a surprise gold medal and U.S. vaulter Chelsea Johnson to sneak in for a silver.

The Jamaican women made it a two-person race soon after the gun went off, leaving Carmelita Jeter of the U.S. to fight for bronze. Fraser's 10.73 tied her for the third-fastest performer in history, behind only Florence Griffith-Joyner's preposterous 10.49 run at the 1988 Olympic trials and Marion Jones' 10.65 in 1998. Stewart crossed in 10.75, followed by Jeter in 10.90 and Jamaica's Veronica Campbell-Brown in 10.95. Like Bolt, Fraser confirmed her stature in the sport a year after winning the Olympics. "I don't tell myself I'm the favorite," Fraser said. "I tell myself I have to go get it like everybody else because everybody else wants it."

The performance put to rest some of the controversy that surrounded the team over the past month. Last month, five Jamaican runners were implicated in a drug scandal. One of them, Yohan Blake, who trains with Bolt, ran 9.91 earlier this season. The five runners, all Berlin bound, tested positive for a stimulant, but were not suspended because of procedural irregularities and because the drug is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency but not the IAAF, the international governing body for track and field.

Then last week, six athletes, including Fraser, were dropped from the team for refusing to attend a camp. The head of the Jamaican Amateur Athletic Association Howard Aries had pulled their names from the official team list. IAAF President Lamine Diack asked Aries not to use world championships as the venue for punishment and convinced Aries to reinstate them.

To make matters worse, Fraser was feeling the lingering effects of appendix surgery she underwent in April, a pain that she said flared up before Monday's final. "I had some pain right where I had my surgery," Fraser said, gripping her side after the race. "I was sipping some peppermint tea and then laying on my stomach to help ease the pain. I really hurt." The normally light-hearted and giggly Fraser had been on bed rest for weeks after the surgery. She said after the race that was withdrawing from the 200 in Berlin later this week but may still run the relay over the weekend.

Perhaps the biggest challenge came from her own countryman and from trying to match the majestic performance turned in by Bolt on Sunday. "I sent a text to my friend [before her race] saying 'this boy's not human,'" she said. "I knew I had to represent for the ladies and say, 'okay, it's my time.'"

And as we stand in 2009, it is clearly time to consider the rivalry between U.S. and Jamaican sprinting a one-sided affair. "Jamaica's taking track and field to a new and higher level," said Stewart.

Isinbayeva's failure was a stunner, in no small part because of her precarious tactics. By the time she attempted a height, at 4.75 meters, six of the 12 finalists had already been eliminated and all 11 of the other finalists had missed at least once. Yet Isinbayeva never really got close. She missed once at 4.75, then failed twice at 4.80. Rogowska, the only vaulter to clear 4.75, was the champion. Chelsea Johnson of the U.S. cleared on her first tries at 4.40, 4.55 and 4.65, then missed three times at 4.75, leaving her in a tie for second with Monica Pyrek of Poland.

Before her final attempt, Isinbayeva stood by a railing at the end of the track, yelling into the stands as her coach, Vitali Petrov, shouted back at her. "Honestly I feel bad for her," Johnson said of Isinbayeva. "I know how that feels. Third attempts are no fun. She just had a bad day. ...A hundred percent I thought she would make it on her last try. I thought 'OK, third place, that's cool.'"

Johnson's presumptions certainly had merit. Including Olympics, world indoor and outdoor championships and European indoor and outdoor championships, Isinbayeva was a perfect 10-0 dating back to 2004. She had set the last 16 world outdoor record and 12 world indoor records in the event. She set the standing mark of 5.05 meters in winning the Beijing Olympics last summer.

"Everything was prepared for victory," Isinbayeva said afterwards. "I just can't explain what happened. I just believe it's density, that sports sometimes. Maybe it was time for me to lose. Maybe God is trying tell me something with this defeat, so I have to recognize that."

After the competition, Isinbayeva moped as she walked off the track and didn't acknowledge the medalists. The gesture wasn't lost on Johnson. "I learned from [former U.S. champ] Stacy Dragila," she said. "When she had a bad day, she always congratulated everybody. It would have been nice of Yelena [to do that, too], but I can't worry about it. I'm a sympathetic person. She couldn't care less about me, but I'll still feel bad for her. I understand that feeling of disappointment. It'll make her a better competitor. She hasn't had to feel those emotions. She'll come back stronger and better."

Tyson Gay announced that he won't run in the opening round of the 200 meters on Tuesday. Gay said he aggravated his sore groin during his four rounds of the 100 meters over the previous two days and won't be able to challenge Bolt and defend his world title at that distance. Gay did say he still hoped to run in the finals of the 4x100-meter relay on Saturday.

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