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Helping Hayes Is on Her Way

Former UCLA star tops semifinal heat of women's 100 hurdles, then aids injured opponent.

August 24, 2004|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — It was a moment she'd long dreamed of, qualifying for the Olympic final in the 100-meter hurdles and doing it in style, with a personal-best time of 12.48 seconds.

But before Joanna Hayes celebrated her good fortune, she stopped to help a competitor who'd fallen to the track at the finish line, injured and in pain.

Hayes wiped tears from the face of German hurdler Kirsten Bolm and offered encouragement, even though she knew Bolm only slightly.

"She's a really nice girl," Hayes said. "I feel so bad. I'm so sensitive. I just told her everything's going to be all right."

Everything has gone remarkably well so far for Hayes, of Riverside North High and UCLA.

She had the fastest semifinal time Monday, a hundredth of a second better than Perdita Felicien of Canada, 2003 world outdoor champion and 2004 world indoor champion. "I know I'm ready to go a lot faster," said Hayes, who was fourth in the 60-meter hurdles at this year's world indoor championships.

"I like going into rounds with the fastest time. It gives me confidence. It makes me feel like I can run within myself."

Melissa Morrison of the U.S. also advanced, with a personal-best 12.53 in the semifinal. But Hayes lamented the absence of veteran Gail Devers, who strained a leg muscle in Sunday's preliminary round and couldn't continue.

"I love Gail and I've known her for years," said Hayes, who earned All-American hurdling honors and the 1999 NCAA 400-meter hurdles title at UCLA. "My heart went out to her. But knowing the kind of person she is, she'll be fine. We want to show her the USA is still represented well.

"She's with us. I know she'll be praying for us."

Hayes, 27, also draws inspiration from a tattoo on her right thigh. She started with a dove, because that's her middle name, and the Olympic rings. She later added a verse from scripture and a pair of wings with her grandmothers' names. "They're my angels and they protect me," she said.

"I feel great. I feel comfortable and excited."

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