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Dragila Fails to Get Clearance in Vault

Olympic-record holder misses on three qualifying attempts. Sweden's Kluft wins the heptathlon. Americans advance in the 400.

August 22, 2004|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — The shoe didn't fit, but defending women's Olympic pole vault champion Stacy Dragila wore it anyway.

And because she was uncomfortable in new footwear designed for her by Nike -- shoes she had praised at a news conference earlier this week -- she injured her Achilles' tendons and couldn't jump, thereby missing an important element of her workouts.

That, in turn, led to her elimination Saturday in the qualifying round of the event she has done so much to promote and advance.

Dragila missed badly at three attempts at 4.40 meters (14 feet, 5 1/4 inches), well short of the Olympic record of 4.60 (15-1) she set at Sydney. She won the U.S. Olympic trials last month by clearing 4.75 meters (15-7), but switched shoes afterward.

"Not being able to clear 4.40, this is something I should be able to do in my sleep," a distraught Dragila said. "It's going to be a great final, and it's too bad I can't be a part of it."

At that, her sobs intensified, and she walked away from reporters.

The U.S. was left without a representative in the finals when Jillian Schwartz and Kellie Suttle were also eliminated in qualifying. Monika Pyrek of Poland and Pavla Hamackova of the Czech Republic each cleared 4.45 meters (14-7 1/4 ) to lead the field. World-record holder Yelena Isinbayeva of Russia also advanced.

In other events:

Carolina Kluft of Sweden won the heptathlon gold medal with a season-best 6,952 points, easily outdistancing Austra Skujyte of Lithuania (6,435) and Kelly Sotherton of Britain (6,424). UCLA alumna Shelia Burrell was fourth, with 6,296 points.

Jana Pittman of Australia, who won the 2003 world 400-meter hurdles title but underwent knee surgery a week before the Games, won her preliminary heat in 54.83 seconds, slow but acceptable given the searing heat and her uncertainty about her knee. "I can't believe it. I feel like I am the luckiest woman alive," she said.

UCLA's Sheena Johnson led a three-woman U.S. contingent into the 400-meter hurdle semifinals today, finishing second in her heat in 54.81 seconds. Brenda Taylor of Chula Vista and Lashinda Demus of Columbia, S.C., also finished second in their heats, in 54.72 and 54.66 seconds, respectively. "Basically, I ran slow so I wouldn't die," Demus said.

Johnson, the NCAA champion, had the same thought. "I probably went out a little slower than I should have," she said. "I'm glad to get today's race out of the way.... The first round for me is always the most nervous."

College stars Sanya Richards of Texas and DeeDee Trotter of Tennessee, along with 28-year-old Monique Hennagan, advanced to the semifinals of the women's 400 today. Richards won her heat in 50.11; Trotter was second in her heat in 50.56. Hennagan finished second in her heat in 51.02.

Ana Guevara of Mexico won her 400-meter heat in 50.93 and predicted times will improve dramatically. "In the finals I think we will dip into the 48s maybe," she said.

In the men's 400, Baylor standout Jeremy Wariner, who'd won the NCAA and U.S. Olympic trials titles, won his semifinal and advanced to Monday's final with the fastest time, 44.37. Americans Derrick Brew (45.05) and Otis Harris (44.99) also qualified.

"I have not peaked yet, and nobody knows how it will look when I'm at my peak," said Wariner, who's coached by Clyde Hart, who guided Michael Johnson to two gold medals in the 200 and one in the 400.

Defending women's 800 champion Maria Mutola of Mozambique won her semifinal heat in 1:59.30 to advance to Monday's final. Jearl Miles-Clark, a five-time Olympian, finished third in a heat won by Kelly Holmes in 1:57.98, the top qualifying time. Miles-Clark's time was 1:58.71. Nicole Teter of the U.S. didn't advance, finishing fourth in her heat and missing the cutoff. She ran 1:59.50.

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