US trying to defend home turf against Jamaicans
NEW YORK -- Several weeks after the Beijing Olympics, American sprinter Lauryn Williams was sitting in a hotel room in Shanghai reading through her mail. Every other letter, it seemed, was filled with anger and resentment.
It already had been a difficult 2008 for her, capped by a disastrous week in the Bird's Nest. Williams finished out of the medals in her signature 100 meters, and a mix-up with teammate Torri Edwards in the 400-meter relay caused the baton to drop and knocked the American team from the event even before the finals.
Her forgettable week became memorable, though, when Williams answered a question about the U.S. struggles by saying someone must have a "voodoo doll" -- a comment some took as a backhanded swipe at the culture of Jamaica, which had dominated the sprints in Beijing.
"I was really hurt, I was really broken up, because I didn't realize I made so many people angry about the statement that I made," Williams said Thursday, two days before she'll line up against Jamaican star Veronica Campbell-Brown at the Reebok Grand Prix at Icahn Stadium on Randall's Island.
"They asked me about why the American team was doing not so good, and I just answered the question," Williams said. "I felt like the whole world hated me. The first time I saw Veronica after the race was Shanghai and I said, 'Are you angry, what's going on? Are the rest of them angry?' She said, 'Yeah, Lauryn, some of them took it the wrong way."
Williams said the comment was meant in jest and apologized, but it has stoked a burgeoning rivalry between the Americans and Jamaicans.
Few will forget Usain Bolt effortlessly cruising to world records in the 100 and 200 and, along with wins by Shelly-Ann Fraser and Campbell-Brown, Jamaica's sprint sweep in Beijing. That dominant showing led USA Track & Field boss Doug Logan to challenge the Jamaican team to a home-and-home series of races that will begin next year.
Williams and several others have embraced the match races, designed to build interest in the sport during non-Olympic years, while some have been critical of the idea.
"What happened at the Olympics and over the years wasn't a mistake," said Jamaica's Asafa Powell, the former 100-meter record holder. "Nothing was a mistake."
Tyson Gay, considered America's top sprinter, believes the series isn't necessary because most of the top stars already meet in the many competitions that mark the outdoor season.
"Asafa Powell, he's been around," Gay said. "Veronica Campbell, Lauryn Williams, they've had their battles, you know? So I think the success of Jamaica at the Olympics shouldn't become a Jamaica-U.S. rivalry, because they had a great week -- they deserve all the success."
Gay and Powell both plan to run at the Reebok Grand Prix on Saturday, the first major step for many athletes toward the world championships in Berlin in August.
They just won't be running against each other.
Powell will headline the 100 meters while Gay makes his season debut in the 200. He'll face a field that includes former college teammate Wallace Spearmon and Olympic 400-meter silver medalist Jeremy Wariner.
Among the other stars competing are Ethiopian distance runner Tirunesh Dibaba, a double Olympic gold medalist, American distance star Bernard Lagat, and pole vaulter Jenn Stuczynski, who captured silver for the United States in Beijing.
The women's 100 meters figures to be the most competitive event on the schedule, even after Fraser withdrew. Campbell-Brown, who won the race last year in a meet-record 10.91 seconds, will line up against a field that includes American stars Edwards, Carmelita Jeter and Muna Lee.
Then there's Williams, who hopes to recapture the form that won her a world title four years ago -- and finally put to rest that disastrous showing in Beijing.
"It's kind of been downhill and I've been having a hard time trying to find my footing," she said, sitting a couple feet from Campbell-Brown. "If you want to make a Lauryn-Veronica rivalry, I need to step my game up a notch."
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press
This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index