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Men off to fast start; Devers, Dragila out

ATHENS, Greece -- It was only the second round of the 100 meters, yet the world's top sprinters already were playing a
lightning-quick game of "Can You Top This?''

Five men broke 10 seconds Saturday, with Shawn Crawford's time
of 9.89 the best of the round. And several top competitors slowed
before the end, which means there could be some incredibly fast
times in the semifinals and final Sunday night.

Also on Saturday, two former female gold medalists failed to reach their respective finals, as two-time winner Gail Devers was eliminated in the 100-meter semifinals and Stacy Dragila failed to make it out of pole vault qualifying.

Yuliya Nesterenko ended two decades of
American dominance in the 100 meters Saturday, using a powerful
closing surge to edge a 20-year-old who is the future of U.S.
sprinting.

Nesterenko, a Belarusian who had never broken 11 seconds before
the Olympics but did it in all four rounds here, won gold in 10.93
seconds. Lauryn Williams, the NCAA champion from the University of
Miami, was second in a personal-best 10.96. LaTasha Colander finished last.

Along with Devers, 100-meter gold-medal favorite Christine Arron of France also failed to reach the final. She got off to a terrible start, appearing to stumble in the opening meters. She quickly found herself behind the
field and finished sixth in 11.21. Devers was seventh in 11.22.

Dragila, who won the vault when it debuted as a women's event at the 2000 Olympics, missed three attempts at 14 feet, 5 1/4 inches
(4.40 meters), well below her best of 15 feet, 10 inches (4.83). After her third miss, she shook her head in dismay and seemed to be
stunned. Then she slowly packed up her gear, put on a cap and headed off the field.

"This is something I should be able to do in my sleep,'' she said later, between sobs.

In the men's 100 heats, Francis Obikwelu of Portugal started the fun by winning his heat
in 9.93 despite easing up 20 meters before the end. Then Crawford,
wearing one black shoe and one white shoe, won his heat and
celebrated by pretending to spike a football on the track.

Crawford's U.S. teammate, Justin Gatlin, was next with a 9.96 to
win his heat. And then defending champion Maurice Greene won his
heat in 9.93 -- with Jamaica's Asafa Powell right behind in 9.99.
Powell ran easily the whole way, turning to look lazily at Greene
midway through the race.

"It feels like running on air out there,'' Gatlin said.

Carolina Kluft of Sweden won the heptathlon with a score of
6,952. Austra Skujyte of Lithuania won silver and Kelly Sotherton
of Britain took the bronze. In the discus, Natalya Sadova of Russia
won gold with a toss of 219 feet, 10 inches (67.02), Anastasia
Kelesidou of Greece thrilled the huge crowd by winning silver and
Irina Yatchenko of Belarus took the bronze.

Thirteen days after undergoing knee surgery, world champion Jana
Pittman made a remarkable comeback Saturday morning by winning her
preliminary heat of the women's 400-meter hurdles.

The Australian, who tore cartilage in her right knee while
warming up for a race and quickly had arthroscopic surgery in hopes
of running in Athens, won her heat in 54.83 seconds. The best time
of the first round was 53.57 by Yuliya Pechonkina of Russia.

"I was really nervous. I did not know if my knee was going to
hold up,'' Pittman said. "I thought I loved this sport, but you
don't know how much you love something until you have it taken
away.''

Also advancing to Sunday's semifinals were all three Americans --
Sheena Johnson, Lashinda Demus and Brenda Taylor. They placed
second in their heats, automatically qualifying for the next round.

In the women's 400 first round, gold-medal contender Ana Guevara
of Mexico coasted so much in the final meters that she had to
momentarily speed back up when she saw competitors catching up. She
won in 50.93.

Guevara, the reigning world champion, was joined in the
semifinals by Americans Monique Hennagan, DeeDee Trotter and Sanya
Richards, whose time of 50.11 was the fastest of the qualifying
round.

All three U.S. men advanced to Monday's final of the 400. Jeremy
Wariner (44.87) had the fastest qualifying time and Derrick Brew
(45.05) won his semifinal heat. Otis Harris slowed at the end and
finished second in his heat in 44.99.