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Monday, August 2

Drug allegations shadow U.S. track team

By Elliott Denman | GNS

It took Maurice Greene only 9.91 seconds to win the men's 100 meter final at the USA Olympic Trials in Sacramento, with Justin Gatlin exactly a hundredth of a second back of him in second place, and Shawn Crawford just one more hundredth back in third place.

And, soon as he caught his breath, Greene looked ahead to the Athens Games and exclaimed "if we all stay healthy and do our best, we're going to bring home gold, silver and bronze."

The 2004 U.S. team is loaded with seasoned veterans - Greene, Allen Johnson and Terrence Trammell (110 high hurdles), Adam Nelson and John Godina (shot put), Breux Greer (javelin), Tom Pappas (decathlon) and Curt Clausen (50 kilometer walk), on the men's team, and Gail Devers (100 hurdles), Jearl Miles-Clark (800 meter), Deena Kastor (10,000 meter and marathon), Tisha Waller and Amy Acuff (high jump) and Sheila Burrell (heptathlon), for the women's squad.

Even so, Marion Jones, along with Torri Edwards, are most likely to dot the headlines in the run-up to the games.

Such is success in this classic Olympic sport now increasingly correlated with the netherworld of performance-enhancing drugs.

Jones was the scintillating five-event medalist at the 2000 Sydney Games (three of them gold.) But she won only the long jump at the Olympic trials and barely edged into the 4x100 relay team pool. Much more of the news media focus was on the allegations of her involvement in the BALCO drug scandal, charges she has steadfastly denied and continues to fight.

Edwards ran her way onto the team in the 100 and 200, as well as the 4x100 relay pool, but her status is cloudier than Jones's situation as she seeks arbitration of a positive drug test, the inadvertent result, she said, of taking a tainted stimulant.

A Greene victory would put him in the category of Carl Lewis as the only men ever to repeat as Olympic 100 champions. Greer is a candidate to join Cyrus "Cy" Young, the 1952 champion, as the only American men to win the Olympic javelin.

Devers, twice a gold medalist in the women's 100 meter, seeks her first gold in the 100 hurdles; for Devers and Miles-Clark, this is their record-equaling fifth Olympic team.

They're surrounded by an array of hungry youngsters, all eager to put their own stamp on the Games.

Highest on the men's list are Gatlin and Crawford in the 100 and 200; Jeremy Wariner and Otis Harris, 400; Joshua Johnson, 800; Alan Webb, 1,500, and Bryan Clay, decathlon. On the women's team watch Lauryn Williams, 100; Allyson Felix and Muna Lee, 200; Monique Hennagan and Sanya Richards, 400; Joanna Hayes, 100 hurdles; Sheena Johnson, 400 hurdles and Laura Gerraughty, shot put.

Gatlin and Crawford hope to run off with three medals apiece; Wariner and Harris are solid candidates to fill the vacated 400-meter shoes of Michael Johnson; Webb dreams of being the first U.S. 1,500-meter medalist since Jim Ryun in 1968, and maybe-just-maybe the first gold medalist since Mel Sheppard in 1908; Clay is a solid decathlon partner of Pappas, the American of Greek heritage and 2003 world champion.

Williams, Felix and Lee, along with LaTasha Colander, who ran the 400 at the 2000 Games, are among the brightest U.S. women's sprint candidates since Marion Jones's rise to the top in the late 1990s.

Track and field, more than ever before, is the most international of all sports and so the days of domination by a small number of nations is gone.

Look, to the deeds of such global celebrities as Jan Zelezny, the Czech Republic javelin thrower, who seeks a fourth consecutive gold medal (a feat that would match that of U.S. four-time champions Carl Lewis in the long jump and Al Oerter in the discus); Robert Korzeniowski of Poland, the finest long-distance walker in Olympic annals; and Yipsi Moreno of Cuba, the world champion in the relatively new sphere of women's hammer throwing.

Greece's own greatest hope may be Mirela Manjani, the 2003 world champion, in the women's javelin throw.

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