Hurdler Anjanette Kirkland was the aging U.S. team's only
first-time world champion
As Antonio Pettigrew of the U.S. warmed up for the 400-meter
final at the World Track and Field Championships last week in
Edmonton, he paused to survey his competition and his place in
history. "Here I am, 33 years old, and I'm the only American in
the final of the 400 meters," Pettigrew would recall thinking.
"Oh my lord, what are we going to do about the future?"
Good question. At the close of the championships on Sunday the
medal count wasn't disastrous. The U.S. finished with 19 medals,
nine of them gold, roughly in line with the totals from recent
world championships (an average of 18 medals, including 10 golds,
at the last three worlds) and the track-and-field competition at
the 2000 Olympics (20 total, 10 gold).
However, after comfortably topping every worlds medal count since
the breakup of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany,
the U.S. this time finished in a tie with Russia. More revealing,
U.S. athletes won nine of their medals in only four events (three
in the men's 100 meters, two apiece in the women's 200, women's
100 hurdles and men's shot put) and suffered an alarming series
of shutouts: including having no finalists in the men's 400-meter
hurdles for the first time in world championship or Olympic
August 19, 2001
There were precious few new faces, as the U.S. leaned on veterans
like Maurice Greene, Marion Jones, Stacy Dragila and John Godina.
Of the 16 individual medals, only six went to athletes who had
never earned a medal in international outdoor competition; only
one, Anjanette Kirkland's in the 100 hurdles, was gold.
"Clearly not enough development is going on," says USA Track &
Field CEO Craig Masback. "The system that has carried us this far
might not work anymore. In fact, it may already not be working."
The "system" really isn't a system at all. The American talent
pool is as rich as any in the world, but there's little to guide
a young prospect along the path from grade school to
international medals. Absent any national program, a kid must
happen to choose track over sports like soccer, basketball and
football ("Most don't," says top sprint coach John Smith), happen
to live near a good high school coach, happen to land at a
college with a high-quality program and happen to find a
postgraduate coach, like Smith (Greene) or Trevor Graham (Jones
and Pettigrew). "It's all too serendipitous," says Masback.
USATF has instituted grassroots programs to introduce the sport
to children and, at higher levels, has promoted domestic meets,
paid stipends to athletes and private coaches, and implemented a
program to improve the U.S. performance in targeted events
(including the long jump and the pole vault). It has spent more
than $3 million on these programs in the past year. "I would like
to think any country would be willing to spend a million dollars
to find one Michael Johnson," says Masback. "But even that will
take time. It's possible that the situation will get worse before
it gets better."
Kirkland's Redemptive Win
Anjanette Kirkland's victory last Saturday evening in the women's
100-meter hurdles came at the conclusion of a tumultuous year.
Last January, Kirkland, 27, who was raised in San Antonio and ran
for Texas A&M, was dismissed from coach John Smith's Los
Angeles-based HSInternational club. An HSI member since 1998, she
says she was dismissed in an early-morning phone call from Smith.
Neither Kirkland nor Smith will discuss what was said in the
call, but Kirkland believes that HSI runner Inger Miller, the '99
world 200-meter champion and a member of the U.S. 4x100-meter
relay team that won a gold medal last Saturday, precipitated the
ouster, which HSI and Kirkland say was not related to Kirkland's
performance on the track. Says Miller, "John Smith and [HSI
manager] Emanuel Hudson asked my opinion. It wasn't a track
issue, it was a personality conflict. She and I were not going to
be partners on the same track, and I wasn't going anywhere."
On Aug. 3 Kirkland and her mother, Patricia, filed a civil suit
in Los Angeles superior court against Smith and HSI, alleging
"assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional
distress," stemming from an altercation in a Eugene, Ore., hotel
lobby on the last night of the USATF national championships in
late June. The Kirklands are seeking $1 million in damages,
alleging that Smith punched Patricia, causing her to fall and
break her left leg, and that he also struck Anjanette. Eugene
police didn't file charges. Smith referred all questions on the
incident to Hudson, who says, "I've heard there's a lawsuit, but
we haven't been served. Beyond that I have no comment."
After leaving HSI, Kirkland moved to Tampa to train with coach
Tony Dees, 38, a hurdler who made the U.S. worlds team as
recently as 1999 and who was hit with a two-year suspension on
June 12 for testing positive for nandrolone. Kirkland won the
indoor worlds in March, and on Saturday she ran a controlled race
from lane 1, shooting into the lead when three-time world champ
Gail Devers clanked the eighth hurdle. Kirkland finished in 12.42
seconds, making her the second-fastest U.S. woman ever in the
event, behind Devers. Her time was the best in the world for
"A.J. is a strong young lady," said Patricia, wiping away tears
as she stood near the track an hour after her daughter's race.
"What happened to her with HSI didn't seem right, but she got
over it. I knew from the joy in her face this morning that she
Yegorova on Track
Racing in the Shadow of EPO
The women's 5,000-meter final last Saturday marked a low point in
track's battle against doping. Olga Yegorova of Russia--who had
been banned on Aug. 2 after testing positive for EPO at a meet in
July, then reinstated on Aug. 5 because the test hadn't been
properly administered--won the gold medal and was greeted by a
smattering of boos and chants of "Go home, EPO!" Said the stoic
Yegorova, 29, "What do you think, should I come in second or
third to please the crowd?"
The crowd also chanted "Szabo! Szabo!" in support of Gabriela
Szabo of Romania, who--four days after winning the 1,500--finished
eighth behind Yegorova in the 5,000. Szabo had threatened to
boycott the 5,000 if Yegorova was permitted to run. It's notable
that Yegorova won with a 59-second last lap, precisely the type
of searing finish that Szabo was using two and three years ago,
prompting speculation among opponents that Szabo was doping,
though she was never known to have failed a drug test. Such
cynicism only underscores the need for EPO testing, which was
introduced on a limited basis last year. Sadly, the mishandling
of Yegorova's test cast a cloud over the 5,000--and added to the
Drummond's Gallant Leg
Last September, Jon Drummond was one of the four U.S. 4x100 relay
runners vilified for their irreverent, flag-waving--and
flag-wearing--victory celebration at the Olympics. On Saturday,
Drummond ran the first leg of the opening round of the 4x100 at
the worlds. Forty meters into the race he pulled his right
quadriceps. Badly injured and galloping like a kid on a hobby
horse but knowing the U.S. would be eliminated if he stopped,
Drummond dragged the leg through the turn to hand the baton to
second runner Mickey Grimes. "If there was any question about how
I feel about my country, I think I answered it today," said
The Americans were initially disqualified when the British team
protested that Drummond had stepped out of his lane, but the U.S.
was reinstated following a video review. In Sunday's final, with
Drummond out, the U.S. rolled to the gold in 37.96.