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ATHENS 2004

A Perfect Finish

American sprinters sweep the 200 meters as the crowd roars for the absent Kenteris.

August 27, 2004|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

ATHENS — They had every opportunity to become boorish and brash and fuel the defiant chanting that had erupted and delayed the start of the men's 200-meter dash until a semblance of order was restored.

Instead, Shawn Crawford, Bernard Williams and Justin Gatlin showed restraint and even reverence. By gathering in an impromptu prayer circle to celebrate their 1-2-3 finish Thursday, they won the respect of a Greek crowd bent on unnerving the Americans because they figured to win the gold medal Costas Kenteris might have won if the Greek sprinter hadn't missed a drug test and withdrawn from the Games.

The 70,000 fans chanted "Hellas! Hellas!" the Greek name for their country, and they chanted Kenteris' name too. They booed the American sprinters when their image was shown on the stadium video screen and ignored veteran Frankie Fredericks' hand gestures for silence.

Although not always known for self-control -- Williams was a member of the Sydney 400-meter relay team that was roundly criticized for preening and flapping the American flag, and Crawford and Gatlin have been known to mug for the cameras -- all three reacted with concentrated calm.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday August 28, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Olympic track and field -- A chart in Sports on Friday showing long jumpers Dwight Phillips and John Moffitt included two photographs of Phillips rather than one of each. The correct photographs are above, with Phillips on the left and Moffitt on the right.

Their evening and their race were a triumph of will and maturity. Crawford ran a personal-best 19.79 seconds to win, Williams passed Gatlin in the last few strides to take the silver medal and match his personal best time of 20.01, and Gatlin, the game but exhausted 100-meter champion, staggered across the line to win the bronze in 20.03.

Afterward, they composed themselves and celebrated, their faces alight with joy but their manner subdued.

"The victory lap was more important than getting the medal," Williams said, "though we knew we had to get the medal to get the victory lap. It was a second chance to do it right. I had four years to think about it."

He did it right. So did his teammates.

"We understand the Greeks wanted their hometown guy in the race," Gatlin said. "We train our whole lives for the Olympics and we wish no one anything bad. ... Every Greek athlete here showed me love. Every Greek volunteer here showed me love."

Said Crawford, who trains with Gatlin in Raleigh, N.C.: "I don't think the delay bothered us. We know situations arise sometimes. That's part of the things that test your mentality as an athlete.

"I really didn't pay attention to the booing. I was just astounded to be out there with that elite field in the 2004 Olympics."

Their sweep was the sixth for U.S. men in the Olympic 200 and first since Carl Lewis, Kirk Baptiste and Thomas T. Jefferson swept the medals in the 200 at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. It also marked the first time since 1904 that the U.S. had swept the 200 and 400 at the Olympics.

"I was running on heart," Gatlin said.

Thanks to their efforts, the U.S. track and field team's medal count, which had been expected to drop dramatically in the wake of the doping scandal that has shaken the track world and kept several world-class athletes home from Athens, stands at 18, two short of the 20-medal U.S. tally at Sydney.

And U.S. runners, jumpers, pole vaulters and javelin throwers could claim a half-dozen or more medals in the men's and women's relays and the field events that remain over the last three days.

"It's important to keep up with tradition," said Crawford, who had finished fourth in the 100 last Saturday behind Gatlin, Francis Obikwelu of Portugal and 2000 gold medalist Maurice Greene.

"I think it's going to uplift young sprinters and help them shoot for it and carry on this tradition."

Crawford, Williams and Gatlin set a lofty standard Thursday. Fredericks, 37, a four-time Olympic silver medalist in the 100 and 200, led until the runners reached the curve and the U.S. trio's power kicked in. Crawford separated himself from the rest with about 75 meters to go, leaving Williams and Gatlin to fight for silver and bronze.

Crawford, 26, said his non-medal finish in the 100 wasn't his strongest motivation.

"Once that was done I put the 100 aside and focused on the 200. I didn't bring any animosity and hunger," he said. "I'm happy to capture gold and I'm ready to do something in the [400-meter] relay."

Gatlin, who fell short of becoming the first Olympic sprint-double winner since Lewis in 1984, said his bronze medal was no disappointment.

"After the Olympic trials we wanted to go out and make it a sweep in the 200," he said. "We talked about it.... I'm 22 years old, in the Olympics, and I have two medals, and I hope another one in the 4 by 100. This medal shows me I have more to do so I can go out and get a gold medal in the 200 next time."

*

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Leaps and bounds

A U.S. medal sweep in the 200 meters was rivaled in drama by the results in the men's long jump and the 400 hurdles:

Dwight Phillips, Mesa, Ariz.

Men's Long Jump

* Phillips soared 28 feet 2 1/4 inches in his first attempt and it stood up for the gold medal. The effort came four years after the U.S. was shut out of a medal in Sydney.

John Moffitt, Baton Rouge, La.

Men's Long Jump

* The NCAA champion from Louisiana State completed a surprising 1-2 finish for the U.S. after leaping a personal-best 27 feet 9 1/2 inches to win the silver.

Felix Sanchez, Dominican Republic

400 Hurdles

* Sanchez, an NCAA champion at USC, won the first gold medal for the Dominican Republic and continued his dominance of the event in a time of 47.63 seconds.

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