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U.S. Runs Low on Sprinters; Felix Goes Pro

August 27, 2003|Randy Harvey | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — From the early morning, when a 17-year-old Southern Californian made news because of the shoes she wore, to the late evening, when a steeplechaser became the center of attention because of the name and flag he bore, the fourth day of track and field's world championships was hardly de rigueur.

Or maybe it was just another day at Stade de France because the previous three days, punctuated by the controversy enveloping U.S. sprinter Jon Drummond, were hardly predictable.

Drummond withdrew Tuesday from the remainder of the championships rather than face a possible suspension. Tim Montgomery went home abruptly to North Carolina for reasons USA Track & Field officials wouldn't discuss, leaving the United States short of sprinters for the 400-meter relay this weekend.

So this was Tuesday:

* Tyree Washington of Riverside, the overwhelming favorite in the 400 meters after winning the world indoor championships last winter and arriving here undefeated this season, was defeated.

Jerome Young of Fort Worth made his move on the last curve and stayed strong in the stretch, winning in 44.50 seconds. Washington was second in 44.77. Marc Raquil exhilarated the crowd of 54,340 by nipping Jamaica's Michael Blackwood at the finish line for third, becoming the first French male quarter-miler to medal in the world championships.

"All I did today was stay in control of myself and not worry about anybody else," said Young, who won the U.S. championship in 1998 and '99 but hadn't been a title contender nationally or internationally since.

"I ran the perfect race."

* Saif Saaeed Shaheen, who until two weeks ago was known as Stephen Cherono, won dramatically in the 3,000-meter steeplechase for his newly adopted country of Qatar.

He has competed previously for Kenya, but he arrived for a meet in Zurich this month with a Qatari passport, which, according to published reports, he had to consult to remember his new name.

There has been speculation that Qatar, which is trying to become an athletic power to coincide with its hosting of the 2006 Asian Games, paid him handsomely and also bought off the Kenyan federation to waive its rights to him. All sides deny that he is receiving more than a $1,000-a-month pension for the rest of his life.

In any case, he already has earned his keep. He toyed with former Kenyan teammate Ezekiel Kemboi in the final two laps before outkicking him from the final barrier on. Shaheen's time was 8:04.39; Kemboi's was 8:05.11.

Kemboi said he didn't mind because he considers Shaheen a Kenyan. Shaheen said he is a Qatari, going so far as to denounce his brother, Abraham, who finished fifth for Kenya.

Moses Kiptanui, a former great Kenyan runner who coached Shaheen, said he felt betrayed.

* One champion prevailed, an oddity for these championships, when Maria Mutola of Mozambique won the 800 in 1:59.89. She also won in 1993 and 2001. But another didn't when Gail Devers, the three-time world champion in the 100 hurdles from the U.S., stumbled over one barrier in the semifinals and failed to advance.

* Allyson Felix, who graduated two months ago from L.A. Baptist High, arrived at the track for the first round of the 200 meters wearing Adidas shoes, which preceded an announcement by the company that it had signed her to a contract.

That makes her the first high-profile track and field athlete to go directly from high school to the pros. She didn't disclose the amount she will be paid, but she did say that it's a six-year deal and that Adidas will pay her tuition to USC. She had accepted a scholarship offer to run track for the university, but that's no longer possible according to NCAA rules.

She said she will have the best of both worlds, college life and the freedom to focus on her preparation for the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens.

Felix, who has the best time in the world this year in the 200 at 22.11, advanced beyond the first round. But, showing the effects of an extraordinarily long high school and elite season, she finished sixth in her second-round heat in 23.33 and is going home to hit the books.

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