U.S. track team suffers more woes

Posted: Wednesday, August 27, 2003

SAINT-DENIS, France Where have all the American runners gone?

Tim Montgomery flew home without explanation. Jon Drummond withdrew, then was disqualified anyway. Gail Devers tripped on a hurdle. Allyson Felix was eliminated in her pro debut.

The U.S. team is shrinking. Even with a 1-2 finish in the 400 meters by Jerome Young and Tyree Washington, Tuesday was yet another day of disappointment for the Americans at the World Championships.

The most stunning departure was that of Montgomery, who didn't even tell U.S. coaches he was heading back to North Carolina. The world-record holder in the 100 made his escape one day after finishing fifth in his event.

With Montgomery gone, the U.S. 400-meter relay squad is now missing three of its stars. Maurice Greene is out after hurting his left leg in the semifinals of the 100, and Drummond withdrew two days after throwing a temper tantrum on the track.

If not for the 400, in which Young was the surprise winner and Washington lost for the first time all season, the U.S. team would have had little to celebrate on Tuesday.

Young, a native of Jamaica who became a U.S. citizen eight years ago, led coming off the turn and held off Washington the overwhelming favorite on the final straightaway to win in 44.50 seconds.

''I ran a perfect race,'' said Young, who wore sunglasses even though the race was run well after dark. ''Tonight is a great moment.''

Washington, who was considered the successor to Michael Johnson, was second in 44.77. Marc Raquil of France got the bronze.

''That's my first loss this year. Man, that hurts,'' Washington said. ''I got a silver medal. It's not like it's a bad thing, but I'm a winner. I hate losing. I mean, I feel bad, I just want to cry.''

Despite the gold and silver in the 400, the United States still trails Belarus and Russia in the medals table after four days of the nine-day meet. Events in which Americans usually dominate such as the men's 100 and the women's pole vault have been shutouts for the U.S. squad this time.

Devers, a three-time champion, dominated her event on the track circuit this summer and had been favored for a fourth world title this week. But she hit the fifth hurdle and was eliminated in the semifinals.

''There's nothing to mope about. I'm always the same. I give it my best. If it's not meant to be, it's not meant to be,'' Devers said. ''I hit a hurdle, bad, at the wrong time.''

Felix, who had the fastest time in the 200 this year, was eliminated on the same day she announced she was turning pro instead of running in college for Southern California.

Drummond withdrew from the meet and said he was prematurely ending his season. Despite that, world track officials threw him out anyway for ''bringing the sport into disrepute.''

World track officials had given the U.S. team until Tuesday night to discipline Drummond. USA Track and Field said it did not have the mechanism to punish him within such a short time frame, but Drummond pulled out anyway. A few hours later, the International Association of Athletics Federations suspended him for the rest of the championships.

Drummond threw a fit Sunday during the 100 quarterfinals that forced a 45-minute delay in the running of his heat. He sprawled on the track and then returned to the starting line, even after being red-carded. After finally leaving, he wept on an adjacent practice track as the heat was rerun.

''My spirit is broken, because it has always been my desire to provide entertainment for the fans,'' he said Tuesday in a statement released through USA Track and Field. ''It saddens me that I will not have that opportunity this weekend or the rest of the season.''

In one of the strangest races of the world meet, Kenyan-born Saif Saeed Shaheen won the gold medal for Qatar in the steeplechase defeating his brother and other former compatriots. Shaheen, who changed his citizenship this summer, ended a Kenyan victory streak of 12 years in the event.

Other winners Tuesday were Maria Mutola of Mozambique, who won her third 800 world title; Tatyana Lebedeva of Russia in the women's triple jump, and Virgilius Alekna of Lithuania in the men's discus.

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