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U.S. track and field meet features plenty of talent

| Thursday, June 21, 2007

INDIANAPOLIS - Justin Gatlin is serving a doping suspension. Marion Jones has married and vanished from public view.

Judging from the talent on display at this week's U.S. track and field championships, the sport will get along just fine without them.

"Great, even better," was Tyson Gay's assessment of the U.S. men's sprints without Gatlin, who ran and won the 100 meters at last year's U.S. meet even though he knew he had tested positive for steroids two months earlier.

Gay finished second and was declared national champion once Gatlin was suspended. The quiet sprinter brings credentials more than worthy of a defending champion.

Only the world-record runs of Asafa Powell and Gatlin (9.77 seconds) were faster than Gay's 9.84 100 last year. This year, Gay had eye-popping, though wind-aided, times of 9.79 and 9.76 seconds over the past month.

"If the weather is nice, nice enough to give me maybe a 1.5 (wind), somewhere around there, I think it's very possible that I could break the world record," he said. "I'm trying not to think about it. I just want to go out there and run. But I think it's a possibility if the weather is there because I've been practicing good, running some good times in practice, and now I'm healthy."

The four-day meet will determine the U.S. team that will compete at the world championships in Osaka, Japan, Aug. 25-Sept. 2. The top three finishers in each event make the U.S. team. Defending world champions — such as Jeremy Wariner in the 400 and Allyson Felix in the 200 — are automatically qualified to defend their titles.

The 100-meter preliminaries are among the events scheduled Thursday at Mike Carroll Stadium, where Gatlin and Jones drew the biggest cheers a year ago.

Lauryn Williams, reigning world 100-meter champion and Olympic silver medalist, said it is nice not to have the media scrutiny that accompanies Jones.

"It's nice not to have the drug questions," Williams said. "I think that with the presence of certain people, the more you people would have asked 'What do you think about the scandal• What do you think about this?' I don't know if it's just me, but I seem to not have those questions this year."

Jones, who has long denied accusations of doping, quietly married sprinter Obadele Thompson in February, then the couple settled in the Austin, Texas, area. Her coach, Steve Riddick, said last week that he did not expect Jones to compete this year.

"I think it's good," Felix said. "You have different names and you have a younger crowd. I know that we're all excited about it, and we're just trying to bring a positive light to the sport."

That, of course, was what Gatlin had preached before he tested positive. Williams doesn't believe Gatlin's case will taint the other young athletes on the U.S. team.

"I think our personalities as people and individuals stand out," she said. "I don't feel I've been judged as part of a group because of what happened to him or anyone else. I'm still Lauryn Williams, she's still Allyson Felix, she's still Sanya Richards. I don't think we're accused of anything because we're part of the young group."

Gay said he knows people can't just take his word for it that he's clean.

"You all are going to have your opinion of me," he said. "I really believe it just takes for that person to finish his career without testing positive, and looking at every sprinter as a different person."

Gay's coach remains Lance Brauman, the former Arkansas assistant who is serving a prison sentence for embezzlement, theft and mail fraud. Brauman calls him weekly, Gay said.

"His situation, it is what it is," Gay said. "He has a couple of months and he's out."

While following Brauman's workout book, Gay has spent the last two weeks working on his slow start with retired sprinter Jon Drummond.

A fast start would come in handy in the standout 200-meter field, which will feature four of the six fastest sprinters in the event's history — Xavier Carter, Wallace Spearmon, Gay and Florida State sensation Walter Dix. Dix has the world's fastest in both events this year, 9.93 in the 100 and 19.69 in the 200.

Women's 100 competitors include Torri Edwards, who served 15 months of a two-year doping suspension. She was granted an early return because authorities believed her explanation that she had accidentally taken glucose tainted with a banned stimulant. Edwards has a world-leading 10.90 this year.

Felix is doubling in the 100 and 200, even though she gets a bye to the 200 at the worlds. Richards, who had the world's five fastest times in the women's 400 a year ago, will double in the 200 and 400 this week.

The field events include the usual powerhouse men's shot put contingent, along with ever-quotable men's javelin ace Breaux Greer. Greer broke the American record with a 297-foot, 7-inch mark on his first throw of the season. It's this year's world leading mark by more than six feet.

His bid for Olympic gold in Athens ended when his already torn knee ligaments finally gave out, leading to one of his 11 operations.

Greer insists his quest for gold in Beijing will be a relaxed one.

"It wasn't until last year when I got the old-man syndrome," he said, "where you feel comfortable and everywhere is your backyard. When I go to Paris and Rome now to throw, Beijing or Osaka, it's a very comfortable feeling. When I was young, I felt like I had to prove something. There's no pressure.

"It's a good feeling." Additional Information:

This week's meet

USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships

When, where: Today-Sunday · Indianapolis

TV: Friday -- 8 p.m., ESPN2

Saturday -- 2 p.m., WPXI-11, WJAC-6, WTOV-9; 7 p.m., ESPN2

Sunday -- 1 p.m., WPXI-11, WJAC-6, WTOV-9

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