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SYDNEY 2000 / SUMMER OLYMPIC GAMES | TRACK & FIELD

U.S. Produces a Flashback With 1-2 Pole Vault Finish

Track and field: In an event once dominated by Americans, Hysong wins first gold since 1968. Johnson is second.

September 30, 2000|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SYDNEY, Australia — The United States of America, Pole Vault Country.

Four days after Stacy Dragila won the first Olympic gold medal in the women's pole vault, Nick Hysong matched the feat in the men's division--becoming the first American man to win the pole vault gold since Bob Seagren in 1968 and combining with teammate Lawrence Johnson to give the United States its first 1-2 finish since Donald Bragg won gold and Ronald Morris silver in 1960.

And Hysong and Johnson did it as the second and third pole vaulters on the U.S. depth chart. American record holder and two-time national champion Jeff Hartwig failed to qualify at the U.S. Olympic trials.

"It's a special feeling," said Hysong, who earned the championship Friday with a first clearance of 19 feet 4 1/4 inches. "Lawrence and I have thought about that for a long time."

Johnson also cleared 19-4 1/4, as did bronze medalist Maksim Tarasov of Russia. Johnson was awarded the silver because he cleared it on fewer attempts.

"I'm happy to be a part of it, of course," said Johnson, who finished first at the U.S. trials ahead of Hysong. "But I imagined the colors would be a little different. I'd be lying if I didn't say I saw myself wearing gold. . . . But it's great to be on the podium after being eighth in Atlanta.

"I'm looking forward to Athens."

Hysong said he got "a lucky bounce" at 19-4 1/4, when he brushed the bar and the bar rattled around but did not dislodge. The same thing happened when Hysong cleared 19- 1/2.

Divine intervention, Hysong suggested.

"Okkert Brits [of South Africa], Lawrence and I all sat down before the competition and all said a prayer together," Hysong said. "I think that says it all."

Since Seagren added to his medal haul with a silver in 1972, the United States' best showing in the pole vault had been Mike Tully's silver in 1984. Over the same span, Americans had won only two bronze medals--David Roberts in 1976 and Earl Bell in 1984.

Johnson attributed the drought in part to the rise in prominence of Russian pole vaulting. Sergei Bubka, the only man to vault 20 feet, won the Olympic gold medal in 1988, followed by Tarasov in 1992.

"When it comes right down to it, a lot of Russian vaulters are technically better than the Americans," Johnson said. "The Russians have tended to be more technical and the Americans more spirited. Our competitions have usually been battles between their technique and our spirit. But we've gotten better with our technique."

Hysong said he has studied videotapes of Bubka, calling the Russian champion "a motivation to me for years. In my training, I've looked up to Sergei and Maksim, who is also a great jumper.

"Sergei is someone you have to respect because he has done things nobody has done."

Hysong paused and grinned.

"Yet."

*

All four U.S. relays teams advanced to today's finals.

The men's 400-meter relay team of Jon Drummond, Bernard Williams, Brian Lewis and Maurice Greene finished first among all qualifiers with a time of 37.82 seconds.

The men's 1,600-meter team of Jerome Young, Angelo Taylor, Calvin Harrison and Alvin Harrison also had the best time among semifinalists, 2:58.78.

The women's 400-meter team of Chryste Gaines, Torri Edwards, Nanceen Perry and Passion Richardson ran 42.82, placing fourth behind Jamaica, France and the Bahamas.

The women's 1,600-meter team of Jearl Miles-Clark, Monique Hennagan, Andrea Anderson and La Tasha Colander Richardson had the second-fastest qualifying time, 3:23.95, behind Nigeria.

*

Kamila Skolimowska of Poland won the gold medal in the women's hammer throw with an Olympic-record 233-5. Olga Kuzenkova of Russia was second at 228-10 1/2, Kirsten Muenchow of Germany third at 227-3.

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