Dress rehearsal at worlds leaves U.S. thinking big for Beijing

Updated: September 3, 2007, 3:26 PM ET
Associated Press

OSAKA, Japan -- The dress rehearsal was a smash. Next comes the big show in Beijing.

The U.S. track and field team never had a better performance at any world track and field championships than the one it had in Osaka.

In the nine days of competition that ended Sunday, gold medals came in the sprints, the distance races, the pole vault and the shot put.

"This is the most complete team we've ever had," said Craig Masback, chief executive officer of USA Track & Field, the sport's governing body in the United States.

The Americans will be back in Asia in less than a year, and the team they field for the Olympic Games undoubtedly will be a strong one.

"This group is very special," said Angelo Taylor, one of the few old-timers on the U.S. squad. "We have a lot of young talent."

Allyson Felix and Tyson Gay lead the way by winning three golds apiece. Gay was the third man to do it at a worlds, Felix the second woman.

Among other things, the U.S. was the first team to sweep all four relays, and Kenyan-born Bernard Lagat was the first to win a 1,500 and 5,000 meters at a world meet. Lagat did it in his first international meet wearing a U.S. uniform.

Out of the 26 medals the U.S. won, 14 were gold.

The United States got a bronze medal in the women's 10,000 by Kara Goucher and came within 0.03 seconds of getting another one from Matthew Tegenkamp in the men's 5,000.

The performances, by Gay in particular, helped bury the embarrassment of having Justin Gatlin test positive for steroids and testosterone last year.

Another drug scandal could erase the good vibes the U.S. team felt in Japan.

Gatlin, world 100 and 200 champion in 2005, remains banned from competition, but is trying to lessen his penalty. His greatest hope would be to become eligible for next year's Olympics, where he is the defending 100 champion. An arbitration panel is expected to rule on his appeal soon.

Gatlin or no Gatlin, the U.S. team could be even better next year.

Defending world decathlon champion Bryan Clay pulled out of the competition with a strained quadriceps muscle. If he's healthy, he will be a medal contender.

Lashinda Demus, runner-up at the 2005 worlds in the 400 hurdles, took the year off to deliver twins.

Walter Dix of Florida State has the world's second-fastest 200 time (19.69 seconds) and fifth-fastest 100 time this year (9.93 seconds), but chose not to compete at the worlds.

Then there's Sanya Richards, who dominated the 400 a year ago and has the fastest time in the world this year. Richards said the medication she is taking for Bichette disease saps her energy when she has several rounds before a final.

Richards, who failed to qualify to run 400 at the worlds, was fifth in the 200 but anchored the winning 1,600 relay team.

"I think our team is just getting stronger and stronger," Richards said. "In 2005 we won 25 medals. This year to win 26 is just showing that the Olympic Games are going to be great for the U.S. We're going to have some phenomenal athletes on that team. Hopefully I'll be able to bring home more than just one gold."

With Felix talking about adding the 400 to the 200 she already dominates, she and Richards are hoping to build a rivalry that will bring more attention to the sport. Both want to double at the Olympics. Masback said U.S. officials have asked that the schedule in Beijing be changed to allow for a women's 200-400 double.

Richards plans to work with her doctor to try to resolve the medication issue.

Masback credits the strong U.S. team to several factors, including the impact the Atlanta Olympics had on swaying young people toward track and field. That's why he's such a big proponent of Chicago's bid for the 2016 Games.

"I think it's vitally critical," he said. "I think it is a bet-the-farm, do everything you've got to do to make it possible."

Masback also credits better drug-testing around the world, leveling the playing field for those who aren't cheating.

No world records fell in Osaka, and some may be out of reach.

"There clearly are world records that were assisted by performance-enhancing drugs -- period," he said. "The absence of records doesn't mean there's no drug use now, though."

But Masback predicted Jeremy Wariner "can run the world record in the 400 right now."

Masback also credited the tough U.S. system for picking a team.

Athletes learn to run qualifying rounds in conference meets, regional meets and NCAA championships, as well as in the U.S. championships.

To make the team for the worlds or the Olympics, an athlete has to finish in the top three in that single championship or Olympic trials meet.

"Our athletes know that they can do extraordinary things under difficult conditions," Masback said. "That ultimately is a huge advantage."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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