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After Victory, He Stays Humble

Once-brash Washington wins 400 meters at U.S. championships, says he'll be Paris underdog.

June 22, 2003|John Ortega | Times Staff Writer

PALO ALTO — It used to be hard for Tyree Washington to stay humble.

But after missing the second half of the 2001 season with a leg injury and sitting out last year for personal reasons, Washington was grateful to win the men's 400 meters in the U.S. track and field championships before 7,644 at Stanford on Saturday.

Washington's time of 44.33 seconds was the fastest in the world this year, earned him his first national title and gave him one of three spots in the 400 on the U.S. team that will compete in the world championships in Paris from Aug. 23-31. But he refused to view himself as a favorite in that meet.

"At this point in my career, I like to look at myself as the underdog," Washington said. "I just want to be really humble about things. I know in the past, I got knocked out of the Olympic trials [in 2000] and in the [national] championships in 2001. So I just want to take it day by day and meet by meet."

Those words contrast sharply with statements Washington made in 1998.

Back then, he spoke of replacing Michael Johnson as the premier quarter-miler in the world. And he didn't expect his rise to the top to take long after finishing third in the 1997 world championships after completing his freshman season at San Bernardino Valley College.

"I was just this aggressive kid on a mission," Washington said. "I wanted to knock off everybody, and I think that football mentality I was brought up with just made me very, very aggressive.... Michael

Washington was ranked fourth in the world in 1998 after clocking a then-career-best 44.29, but ran only 45.50 in 1999 while trying unsuccessfully to catch on with the San Diego Chargers as a wide receiver.

He ran 44.72 early in 2000 but failed to advance out of his first-round heat in the Olympic trials while battling an asthmatic condition and dealing with his sister's arrest on charges of killing her daughter.

He came back to run a career-best and world-leading 44.28 early in 2001, but a hamstring injury contributed to his failure to advance to the final of the national championships that year.

The injury and the stress of dealing with his sister's legal troubles -- she was sentenced to 25 years to life -- led Washington to sit out last season.

He ran 44.70 to win the Prefontaine Classic on May 24, however, and looked superb Saturday in holding off second-place Calvin Harrison, who ran 44.62, and third-place Jerome Young, 44.79.

"I knew it was going to be a hot one," Washington said. "I knew Calvin and Jerome were going to definitely push me.... I just thank God that everything worked out today."

Tom Pappas, Allen Johnson and Regina Jacobs had some of the other notable performances Saturday.

Pappas, the No. 2-ranked decathlete in the world last year, had a 245-point lead in that event after totaling a career-best 4,691 points on the first day.

Johnson, a three-time world champion in the 110 high hurdles, won that event in 13.37 while running into a stiff breeze.

The 39-year-old Jacobs won her 12th national title in the women's 1,500 with a time of 4:01.63, fastest outdoor clocking in the world this year.

Maurice Greene and Allyson Felix advanced to the semifinals of the men's and women's 200 with varying degrees of success.

Greene, defending Olympic champion in the 100, finished second in his heat in 21.10, but he appeared to be favoring his left leg when he left the track.

When asked if he was experiencing any tightness in his leg, he said, "I'm here and I'm ready to run."

Felix, who graduated from Los Angeles Baptist High in North Hills on Friday, posted the fastest qualifying time in the women's 200 with a 23.19 clocking. She ran a world-leading 22.11 in a meet in Mexico City in May.

In other news, pole vaulter Lacy Janson of Florida State was released from Stanford Medical Center. She was taken there after she partially missed the landing mat.

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