Best of times, worst of times for U.S. track

Posted: Tuesday, September 02, 2003

SAINT-DENIS, France The head of U.S. track and field could not resist a literary cliche in summing up the performance on and off the track of the American team at the World Championships.

''It's the best of times and the worst of times,'' said USA Track and Field chief executive Craig Masback, roughly quoting the opening lines of Charles Dickens' ''A Tale of Two Cities.''

The Americans led all nations with 20 medals, half of them gold, in the nine-day meet that ended Sunday. It was the best medal total for the U.S. team in a decade.

But two of those medals, by Kelli White in the women's 100 and 200 meters, are at risk. If White is stripped of her gold medals, the Americans would finish behind Russia's 19 medals six of which were gold.

The U.S. team struggled in several events it usually dominates, including being shut out of the medals in the men's 100 and the women's pole vault. They were also embarrassed by the White drug test and the controversy swirling around a 4-year-old drug case involving 400 world champion Jerome Young.

And there was Jon Drummond, the U.S. sprinter who threw a tantrum after being disqualified for a false start in the 100 quarterfinals. He withdrew from the meet, but was tossed out for good measure by world track officials and faces additional punishment.

Yet the Americans got three golds and a silver in the four relays, and a 1-2 finish in the men's 200 by John Capel and Darvis Patton, who gave a glimpse at the next generation of U.S. sprinters. Capel is 24, Patton is 23.

Capel, who is back on the track after a short-lived effort to make it as a wide receiver in the NFL, believes he and Patton could become as dominant as Maurice Greene and Michael Johnson were in the 1990s.

''You can call it a new wave, but I think we've always been there. We've just been behind the shadows of Maurice Greene and Tim Montgomery,'' Patton said. ''Now they're kind of laying low. It gives us the time to shine.''

Reigning 100 Olympic champion Greene is one of the U.S. athletes whose best days may be over. Regina Jacobs, 40, a two-time world silver medalist in the women's 1,500 and a 12-time U.S. champion in that event, ran in her last World Championships.

Masback hopes the U.S. team can return to dominance at the Athens Games in events such as the men's 100 in which Montgomery holds the world record and men's shot put. A non-American won the world shot title in France for the first time in a decade.

There's also the expected return next year of new mom Marion Jones, who won an unprecedented five track medals at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, and the expected maturation of teen sprinter Allyson Felix, who turned pro during the world meet.

''It really sets us up for next year,'' Masback said. ''Ultimately, in our world, it's the Olympics that's really the big thing.''

It is still to be determined whether White will be able to join Jones and Felix in the sprints at the Athens Olympics.

White was the only U.S. woman to win an individual gold at the world meet, but her medals could be stripped because she tested positive for a stimulant after the 100 final. White says she took a prescription medication used for a sleep disorder.

World track officials continue to examine White's case. They could pass on their findings to U.S. track officials this week, and White is likely to lose at least one of her golds.

If all else fails for the Americans, there's always 48-year-old hurdler Edwin Moses, who announced a partial comeback on the last day of the world meet. The two-time Olympic champion said he will try to qualify for the U.S. Olympic trials next July in Sacramento, Calif.

''No one ever asks an artist who was great in his 20s or 30s why he is taking back up his brushes,'' Moses said. ''I can wake up in the middle of the night and run hurdles. Those are my paint brushes.''

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