Inside Olympics

July 01, 2001

Long and Strong
Distance runners young and old stole the show at the U.S. track
and field nationals

Last Saturday afternoon, Alan Webb, 18 years old and nine days
removed from his high school graduation, jogged through a thicket
of fans outside Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., and headed to the
1,500-meter final at the U.S. track and field championships.
Heads snapped around. Grown-ups and teenagers whispered, That's
Alan Webb. Such was the tone of the weekend, as distance
runners--young and old--snatched the spotlight from America's
swaggering sprint corps. The reasons for the turnabout were both
uplifting and disappointing.

The uplift started with the kids: Webb, whose high-school-record
3:53.43 mile at the Prefontaine Classic on May 27 turned him into
one of the biggest names in the sport--and, perhaps
unrealistically, the favorite in the 1,500 at nationals--finished
fifth in the final. He never got close enough to threaten and
said, while getting a consoling neck rub from his girlfriend,
Clara Horowitz, "I don't know what happened." Most likely, what
happened was that a nine-month season and a chaotic 28 days
finally left him with an empty tank on a big stage. Yet even in
finishing fifth, Webb energized his event. "People want to watch
him; it's that simple," said 1996 and 2000 U.S. 1,500-meter
Olympian Jason Pyrah.

More quietly, Dathan Ritzenhein, who also graduated from high
school last month, finished a solid 11th in the 5,000 meters in
13:44.70, missing Gerry Lindgren's 37-year-old schoolboy mark by
.7 of a second. Coming a year after Stanford undergraduates Gabe
Jennings and Michael Stember made the Olympic team in the 1,500,
the performances of Webb and Ritzenhein give further reason to
believe that U.S. distance runners are emerging from their long
slumber.

The old guard roused itself as well. In front of Ritzenhein, Bob
Kennedy, 30, who has 14 of the 15 fastest 5,000s in U.S. history
but who nearly retired last year after a back injury scuttled his
Olympic chances, won after a terrific battle with Adam Goucher.
At the finish Kennedy, who ran 13:28.72, threw his arms into the
air in celebration, an uncharacteristic outburst. "I'm closer to
the end of my career than the beginning," Kennedy said. "This
meant a lot."

In a cold drizzle on Sunday afternoon, Marla Runyan, 32, who
barely a year ago was primarily a curiosity because of her legal
blindness and her oddball conversion from heptathlete but who is
now respected as a world-class runner, won the women's 5,000 in
15:08.03. Close behind her, 37-year-old Regina Jacobs took
second, an hour after winning the 800 and a day after outkicking
Suzy Favor Hamilton, 32, in the 1,500. Jacobs completed the first
women's 800-1,500 double since Kim Gallagher's in 1984.

Alas, the distance heroics couldn't hide the weakness of the
sprints. Maurice Greene ran only one round of the 100 meters, a
protest against USA Track & Field's rule that defending world
champions, though already guaranteed a wild-card entry to the
worlds (to be held in Edmonton from Aug. 3 to 12) by the
international federation, must compete at nationals to earn a
spot on the U.S. team. Greene's 9.90, the fastest time in the
world this year, was scintillating, but only a small
Thursday-afternoon crowd witnessed it. Marion Jones, with a wild
card into the world championships 100 but not into the 200, won
the latter on Sunday but sat out the 100.

Others who did show up ran slowly. Shawn Crawford won the men's
200 in 20.54, the second-slowest winning time since 1976, in a
race that suffered from the absence of Greene and 2000 Olympic
trials winner John Capel, who was drafted by the Chicago Bears
and is preparing for NFL training camp. Antonio Pettigrew took
the 400 in 45.08 to become the first U.S. champ since '84 to run
slower than 45 seconds. The unimpressive times can be partially
explained by the cool, damp weather and post-Olympic malaise, but
they also underscore a lack of depth behind Greene and the
retired Michael Johnson, who made a brief Sunday appearance on
the Hayward infield, surely comfortable in the knowledge that he
could have won his usual 200-400 double in street clothes and
loafers.

Still, as the buzz around Webb all week made clear, things should
be all right--at least in the long run.

Summer Bloom
Marion Jones Hitting Her Stride

It was a quiet spring for Marion Jones. The news, in June, of her
breakup with husband C.J. Hunter, after 31 months of marriage,
caused far more of a stir than did any of her on-track
performances. Before last weekend's national championships
Jones's best 100 meters of the year was 11.12 seconds and her
fastest wind-legal 200 was 22.70, times she should be able to run
in training. In Eugene, finally, she showed signs of life,
producing a quick 22.23 in her 200 semifinal before struggling
home against the wind to win the final in 22.52.

Jones admitted after her victory that she was still feeling the
effects of her long and arduous Olympic season. "I think my body
still needs a little rest," she said. Jones and her coach, Trevor
Graham, pulled back on intense early training this year in hopes
of keeping her sharp for a slate of upcoming European meets and
for the August world championships in Edmonton. "As the years go
on, I'm going to have to listen to my body," Jones said on Sunday
afternoon. "You're not necessarily going to see Marion run 10.70
in Osaka in May, like in past years."

Jones plans to run the 100 and 200 in Edmonton, along with at
least one relay. (She has expressed a preference for the 4x400.)
She will not long-jump at all in 2001. Her first major European
race was to be a 100 meters on June 29 in Rome.

Wrestler Rulon Gardner Returns
Grappling with Fame

Larger-than-life heavyweight Rulon Gardner returned to wrestling
on Sunday in Cincinnati, defeating Dremiel Byers in two straight
matches to earn a berth on the U.S. Greco-Roman team that will
compete at the world championships in New York City in September.
After dethroning previously unbeaten Alexander Karelin of Russia
in the superheavyweight gold medal match at the Sydney Olympics,
the gregarious Gardner embarked on a whirlwind tour that took him
far from the world of sweaty mats.

He bonded with Navy troops in the Persian Gulf. He won $125,000
(half for charity) on Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, bear-hugging
host Regis Philbin in the process. "I imagined parts of him
sticking out the sides of me," says Gardner, who is back down to
his grappling weight of 286 after picking up 20 pounds on the
banquet circuit. He accepted a Jet Ski on The Rosie O'Donnell
Show, performed his trademark cartwheel on The Oprah Winfrey
Show, wetted his whistle for a Got Milk? ad and mugged with Katie
Couric on his shoulders for Vanity Fair. He threw out the first
pitch at Yankees and Rockies games, held the Stanley Cup at a
Devils game, served as honorary captain for both teams at a
Bills-Dolphins game and body-slammed a mascot at a Jazz game.
Hey, buddy, your 15 minutes are up already.

"You grow up milking cows in Afton, Wyoming, a town with 1,600
people," says Gardner, the youngest of nine children and a
devout Mormon who neither smokes nor drinks, "then in one
instant everything you knew changes." Even when he returned to
Afton in October, he was treated to a parade in his honor,
traveling by tractor and fire truck along Main Street. He
rejected an offer of $1 million per year to join the WWF,
saying, "I still have dreams in amateur wrestling." Although he
has signed with Sony, Asics and Dr. Scholl's, Gardner, who made
only $12,000 in 1999, has scarcely been living high on the
hog--or cow. Instead he's paid off some debts and made
substantial donations to start the Miracle on the Mat
foundation, which aids people with catastrophic illnesses and
which Gardner started in honor of his brother Ronald, who died
of aplastic anemia at 14.

Last Saturday in Xavier's Cintas Center, Gardner sat in the
stands quizzing the autograph seekers and picture takers about
their hometowns and wrestling interest. The line didn't let up
for 90 minutes--and that was before the formal autograph session.
"You think a year ago so many people wanted pictures of this
face?" he says, laughing. "Whose life did I just walk into?"
--Brian Cazeneuve

Dispatches
Missing Medalists?

Citing financial burdens, the Kenyan Amateur Athletic
Association, which usually sends 35 athletes to the World Track
and Field Championships (Kenyans have claimed an average of 7.2
medals at the past five worlds), will limit its delegation to 20
for this year's meet.... Three months after their surprising win
at the World Figure Skating Championships, the Canadian pair of
Jamie Sale and David Pelletier are switching coaches from Richard
Gauthier in Quebec to Jan Ullmark in Edmonton. Ullmark, who is
regarded as a better singles coach than Gauthier, will try to
help the inconsistent Sale improve her jumps.... Sprint champ
goes too fast: Canada's Donovan Bailey, the 1996 Olympic
100-meter gold medalist and former world-record holder in the
event, was fined $640 last week for driving his Mercedes 120 mph
on an Ontario freeway last November.... Algerian IOC member
Mohamed Zerguini, who was implicated in the Salt Lake City
bribery scandal, died last week at 79. An IOC inquiry board
issued a warning to Zerguini in 1999 after learning that his
family had received paid trips to Salt Lake City. Bid executives
also sent close to $15,000 to an engineering student they
erroneously believed was related to Zerguini.

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES Rebounding from an Olympic-year injury, Kennedy kicked to a convincing victory in the 5,000. COLOR PHOTO: DAVID E. KLUTHO After riding the celebrity whirlwind, Gardner (top) got back to weightier business with a win over Byers at the world team trials.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)