FIRST AT LAST
Miler Steve Holman finally wins a major race
U.S. track and field craves a great miler. Not since Jim Ryun
and Marty Liquori in the late '60s and early '70s have American
milers been dominant, and not since Joe Falcon nearly 10 years
ago have they been competitive on the world stage. This is true
despite the fact that the world records in both the 1,500 meters
and the mile have fallen gradually--to 3:26.00 by Morocco's
Hicham El Guerrouj and 3:44.39 by Algeria's Noureddine Morceli,
respectively--unlike the staggering drops in the longer distances.
In 1992, when Steve Holman ran 3:52.73 in the mile and 3:34.95
in the 1,500 and made the Olympic team as a Georgetown senior,
he was declared the next great U.S. miler. The label nearly
ruined his career. For eight years the 29-year-old Holman has
run plenty fast: 3:50.40 in the mile and 3:31.52 in the 1,500.
Yet he became best known for his epic failures in major meets;
he didn't make the U.S. team for the world championships in 1995
and finished a humiliating 13th in the '96 Olympic trials.
Holman's reputation was that of an athlete who could run fast in
rabbit-paced meets but could not compete wisely and courageously
in a real race. "People criticized his heart, and that's a very
tough thing to take," says U.S. 5,000-meter star Bob Kennedy,
one of Holman's closest friends.
Last Saturday at the U.S. national championships in Eugene,
Ore.--the qualifier for the worlds in Seville in
August--everything changed for Holman. "He got the bear, the
dog, the monkey, whatever you want to call it, off his back,"
said Frank Gagliano, Holman's coach now and at Georgetown.
Running what Kennedy called a "tactically beautiful race" in the
1,500, Holman alternately forced and controlled the pace,
keeping himself free of the errors in traffic that doomed his
past efforts, and won his first national title, in 3:39.21.
As Holman left the track he was hugged by Kennedy and then by
Gagliano, who rasped in his ear, "I love you." In the winter of
1998, after being coached by his agent, Kim McDonald, for
several years, Holman rejoined Gagliano. "He never quit,"
Gagliano said of Holman. "He took his beatings and kept working.
He's a good, strong man, and he's good for the sport."
Holman's run in Eugene was a breakthrough that could make him a
threat in any race--and he knows it. "This sort of vindicates
what I've done in my career," he said. "But it's just the
MITCHELL'S BACK, FOR NOW
As 33-year-old Dennis Mitchell raced across the finish line last
Friday to win the national 100-meter championship, his brother,
Anthony, watched from a nearly empty section of the bleachers.
"Long year," said Anthony, shaking his head as Dennis left the
track. "Very long year." In an international career dating back
to 1984 Dennis has experienced more than most track athletes,
running in three Olympics, winning four national titles and
chairing the USA Track and Field (USATF) athletes' advisory
committee from 1996 to '98. Yet nothing has been more arduous
than the path that took him to Eugene last weekend, a path that
may soon turn into a dead end.
Last July, Mitchell was suspended by the International Amateur
Athletic Federation (IAAF), the sport's governing body, after it
found what it called "suspicious" levels of testosterone in a
random urine sample taken from Mitchell in April '98. At a
December hearing, however, USATF chose not to suspend Mitchell.
His win in Eugene puts him on the U.S. team for the August world
championships, but Mitchell won't know if he will be allowed to
compete until after a July 24 IAAF hearing.
His situation underscores what a mess international doping
policies have created. Mitchell is one of several athletes
suspended not because banned substances were found in their
bodies but because their testosterone ratios were so high that
some scientists believe they must have used undetected drugs.
According to Jill Pilgrim, USATF senior counsel, USATF is
"uncomfortable" with the science of testosterone-level testing
and does not automatically endorse testosterone-ratio
suspensions. That puts it at odds with the IAAF. "They are
taking a tack that we're not serious about doping control," said
Pilgrim last weekend in Eugene. "We're very serious about it.
We're doing 300 drug tests this weekend. Does that sound serious?"
"I'm absolutely innocent, that's what I've said all along,"
Mitchell said last Saturday. Yet he is not naive. This year he
has been training alone in Gainesville, Fla. "Me and the hot
sun, every day," Mitchell said, "not knowing if it might be the
end of my career."
Whither Michael Johnson?
The centerpiece of last weekend's nationals was to have been a
200-meter dream race between world-record holder and Olympic
double gold medalist Michael Johnson and new 100-meter
world-record holder Maurice Greene. It didn't happen because
Johnson pulled out 48 hours before the gun, citing an injury to
his right quadriceps. "He just didn't think he could go all
out," said his coach, Clyde Hart.
Johnson had also been scheduled to run against Greene in the 200
at the Track and Field Association ProChampionships in
Uniondale, N.Y., on June 6. He withdrew from that meet after his
grandmother died. In Eugene, Johnson's absence left a vacuum. It
also prompted suspicion that Johnson, who will run the 400
meters as a wild-card entry at the worlds, was ducking the
red-hot Greene, who won the Eugene 200 in 19.93 despite a
stumble out of the blocks.
"How unfortunate could one guy be?" said Greene's manager,
Emanuel Hudson, referring to Johnson. "Every time a big 200
comes around, something happens." Indeed, since winning at the
Atlanta Games, Johnson has run just 11 200s.
Hours before Johnson's withdrawal, marketing executive Gary
Hopkins of Advantage International, which is helping USATF with
its marketing program, said presciently, "Promoting individuals
is a dangerous path for track and field. Sometimes individuals
don't show up."
KEEPING UP WITH JONES
Marion Jones always shows up. In Eugene she finished second in
the long jump despite a lingering injury to her right knee and
cruised to victory in the 200 meters. Less reliable was the
information provided by Jones's entourage in the two weeks
leading up to the nationals.
Jones injured her knee at the Pontiac Grand Prix in Raleigh on
June 12. In the ensuing days, however, her manager, Charles
Wells, and coach, Trevor Graham, told reporters that she was not
injured and was training normally. Upon arriving in Eugene,
Jones bluntly said that she had hyperextended her knee and had
trained little since Raleigh.
Jones's honesty--and her courage in taking four long jumps to
try to win the event, when one would have been enough to get her
to Seville--was inspiring. Her team's panic in the face of a
tiny crisis, however, was disconcerting. "We were just trying to
keep everybody off balance," said Wells. Jones hopes to make
history in Sydney by becoming the first track athlete to win
five gold medals in a single Olympics. Scrutiny will be intense,
and she will face other controversies. Jones probably can handle
them, but can her support team?
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES Controlling the pace of the race as he never had before, Holman seized the 1,500 at the nationals.
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES
After watching Kevin Dilworth (above) take the U.S. long jump
title last Saturday with a meager leap of 26'7 3/4", the
shortest winning jump in 24 years, 1992 Olympic triple-jump
champ and 28-foot long jumper Mike Conley, 36, joked, "If it
gets any worse, I'm putting my spikes back on." In fact, while
several track and field events are progressing nicely in the
U.S., several others have slipped.
EVENT 1999 U.S. CHAMPION MARK
Long jump (men) Kevin Dilworth 26'7 3/4"
First sub-27' titlist since 1975
Triple jump (men) LaMark Carter 56' 3 1/4"
Equal to third-shortest winning mark since 1982
400 meters (women) Maicel Malone-Wallace 51.29
Slowest champ since 1981
EVENT 1999 U.S. CHAMP MARK
Shot put (men) John Godina 72'3"
Personal best, longest throw in world since 1996
Pole vault (men) Jeff Hartwig 19'9"
U.S. record; Hartwig becomes third-highest vaulter ever
10,000 meters (women) Libbie Hickman 31:41.33
Fastest ever at nationals; runner-up Anne-Marie Lauck also under