Put To The Test
Here's what to expect from the crucible of track and field's U.S.
If the Olympics are the greatest track meet in the world, then
the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, which begin on Friday in
Sacramento and run through July 23, are surely the most
excruciating. There are no wild cards, no byes and no selection
committees, just three spots up for grabs in each event--four
years of preparation coming down to a single moment. Here are six
key questions that will be answered over the eight days of
Will Gail Devers earn a shot at an unprecedented third
consecutive Olympic 100-meter gold medal?
It doesn't look good. Devers's sprint form has been abysmal; her
season's best is 11.20 seconds, making her only the 11th-fastest
U.S. woman of 2000. That's the bad news for Devers. The good
news is that she has never looked better over hurdles so early
in a season. She has already run 12.47 in the 100-meter hurdles,
the fastest clocking in the world this year and her
second-fastest in a career that includes three world titles in
that event. Count on Devers to double in the 100 and the hurdles
at the trials, but count on her to make the team only in the
hurdles. She'll go to Sydney as the favorite in an event she
should have won eight years ago in Barcelona, where she fell and
Is Jackie Joyner-Kersee serious about competing in the long jump?
Maybe. Her agent, former world champion hurdler Greg Foster, said
last week, "I know she's had some injuries, but I also know she's
a got a plane ticket to Sacramento on July 13." Know this: The
women's long jump has never been softer. A jump in the
low-to-mid-21-foot range could secure a ticket to Sydney. In her
prime Joyner-Kersee jumped consistently in the high 23s, but her
best in 1998, her last year on the circuit, was only 21'5 1/4".
She's 38 and was thrilled to get out of the game two years ago,
weary and sore. It will probably take 23 feet to win a medal in
September, which makes it hard to imagine why JJK would risk a
smudged legacy merely to march in one more opening ceremony.
What happened to John Godina?
Five years ago, at age 23, Godina was world champion in the shot
put. A year later he took silver in Atlanta. In 1998 he had 13
of the 14 longest throws in the world, as well as the best throw
in the discus. He seemed to have a good chance of becoming the
first shot-discus double Olympic gold medalist since 1924. Then,
after winning the national shot title in '99 and finishing
second in the discus, Godina bombed at the worlds in Seville. He
hasn't been the same since. C.J. Hunter, Marion Jones's husband,
has dominated the shot, followed by a host of solid throwers.
Four U.S. men have bettered Godina's 2000 best of 69'8 3/4", led
by Hunter, who has tossed a PR of 71'8 3/4".
Yet don't count Godina out, says his coach, Art Venegas. "John
broke down mentally last year," says Venegas, who is also UCLA's
throws coach. "He was on top for so long that he lost his drive.
I can see him coming back. Rest and failure, that's a pretty good
What's up with the best male U.S. distance runners?
Two-time Olympian Bob Kennedy, the U.S. record holder at 3,000
and 5,000 meters and the sixth-place finisher in the 1996 5,000,
is recovering from a back injury suffered when his car was
rear-ended in early May. He had planned to run the 10,000 in
Sacramento and Sydney, but the interruption in training has left
him uncertain. "I've been to the Olympics twice, so I'm not
interested in going just for the experience," Kennedy said last
week. "If I'm not sure I can be competitive in a 10,000, I won't
run it." Kennedy might keep his options open by doubling in the
5 and 10 at the trials. "I missed training time," he said, "but
I'm still doing workouts that not many other Americans are doing."
Adam Goucher, who beat Kennedy for the U.S. 5,000 title last
summer, is in worse straits. After missing nine weeks in the
spring with a strained left Achilles tendon, Goucher resumed
training in May, only to hurt his back three weeks ago while
working in his yard. He missed a crucial nine days of training.
"When he got hurt the second time, he was at rock bottom," says
Goucher's coach, Mark Wetmore. "But he'll be at the trials, and
if anybody can pull it off, he can."
If Marion Jones wants five gold medals so badly, why doesn't she
qualify in the 400 meters, in addition to the 100 and 200 (and
two relays), and bag the long jump, in which she has struggled?
Can't do it. True, Mrs. Jones's 400 clocking of 49.59 at Mt. SAC
in April is still the world's second-fastest time of 2000, and
her long-jumping is wildly unpredictable, but the schedule won't
allow a sprint triple. In Sacramento the 100 and 400 semifinals
are 80 minutes apart, followed 33 minutes later by the 100 final.
Besides, it takes only one big pop to win a long jump, and MJ
certainly has a puncher's chance.
Which new names will we be hearing a lot in Sydney?
Not counting the boycotted 1984 Olympics, the U.S. hasn't won a
medal in a women's throwing event since Kate Schmidt took bronze
in the javelin in 1976. Seilala Sua, who in June won her fourth
NCAA discus title for UCLA, is closing in on the world's best.
Dawn Ellerbe dominates U.S. women in the hammer throw and ranks
third in the world.
The Heart of The Matter
Before the 1996 Olympic track and field trials, steeplechaser
Mark Croghan was a self-described "basket case," a jangle of
nerves despite having ranked No. 1 in the country every year
since 1993 and having already been to the '92 Olympics. He
overcame his jitters to win the trials and finish fifth at the
Atlanta Games. Croghan, 32, comes to the 2000 trials off a
two-year fight with anemia that nearly pushed him into
retirement, yet nerves will not be a problem, he says, because he
and his wife, Kim, are enduring an ordeal beside which even
Olympic pressure pales.
On June 6 the Croghans' nine-month-old son, Griffin, underwent
open-heart surgery to repair a birth defect. He spent three weeks
attached to a machine that pumps blood for the heart, suffered a
mild stroke when he was taken off blood thinners and on June 22
was placed on a heart-transplant list. Even as potential donors
were found, Griffin's heart began functioning on its own. He was
removed from the transplant list but remains on a ventilator in
the pediatric intensive-care unit of Rainbow Babies and
Children's Hospital in Cleveland, a 45-minute drive from the
Croghans' house in Wadsworth, Ohio.
Mark works out early each morning before spending the day at the
hospital with Kim. (They also have a three-year-old son,
Cameron.) Some days Mark squeezes in a second workout after he
and Kim return home. Despite the strain, Mark has raced well,
winning events in Portland and Brunswick, Maine, in the past
"This experience has taught me to relax," says Croghan. "Now I
understand that running is a game, nothing more. Don't get me
wrong, the Olympics are still a big deal, but that daily
'have-to' just isn't there anymore."
Old Guard Still Flipping
After the U.S. women's gymnastics team, dubbed the Magnificent
Seven, won the gold medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, its
members made enough money from tours and speaking engagements to
be renamed the Munificent Seven. Today's wiser and creakier
version of the Mag 7 is the Fab 5. Shannon Miller, Dominique
Moceanu, Dominique Dawes, Jaycie Phelps and Amy Chow have all
unretired in the past 18 months. Only Kerri Strug and Amanda
Borden haven't launched comebacks.
After finishing sixth at the last two world championships, the
U.S. can use some old blood. "The stability and prestige the
returners bring, we must have that," says Bela Karolyi, the team
coordinator, who will have the greatest say in choosing the squad
for Sydney after the trials in August. Yet at the U.S. Classic in
Tulsa, won last Saturday by Vanessa Atler, Chow placed only
fifth, Moceanu sixth and Phelps 14th. Dawes stayed home to train
in Maryland, and Miller pulled out after sustaining a hairline
fracture of her right tibia on Thursday. Here's a look at the
comeback, er, kids, with Karolyi's take on their Olympic
Amy Chow, 22: As a pre-med student with a 3.9 average at
Stanford, Chow took a chemistry class with Chelsea Clinton. She
returned to action last fall, during her junior year, and placed
first at the Bluewater Invitational in March. "She is way ahead
of the other returners," Karolyi says.
Dominique Dawes, 23: She feared speaking in grade-school classes
but became a motivational speaker and appeared in a Broadway
production of Grease. "Her bar routines have the full amplitude
of the spectacular '96 routines," Karolyi says, "but her absence
[from Tulsa] was for me a surprise. Every other returner had a
bad first meet. She cannot afford that now."
Shannon Miller, 23: Two years ago Miller and her future husband,
physician Chris Phillips, obtained a protective order against a
man who had stalked Miller. Police searched the man's home, where
they found drawings of Miller with her head cut off. Miller
returned to international competition in June. Karolyi, asked to
pick one routine from a Mag 7 gymnast that would best suit the
specialist role, chose Miller's beam set, even though she fell
off twice in her comeback meet last month.
Dominique Moceanu, 18: In '96 Moceanu, then 14 and only 4'4",
became the youngest U.S. female to win an Olympic gymnastics gold
medal. She has since grown 10 inches, changed coaches three times
and taken out a protective order against her father, Dumitru,
claiming he planned to kill a former coach of hers. (The order
was lifted within four months.) "I still love my family," says
Moceanu, whose Olympic chances have doubled since April,
according to Karolyi. "It really sucked to have headlines about
them plastered everywhere."
Jaycie Phelps, 20: After three knee surgeries, Phelps says, "I
get frustrated more easily by mistakes. I have to make my
landings count." She is an investor in the group that merged with
Desert Devils Gymnastics, where she trains in Scottsdale, Ariz.
"Her routines don't yet have enough difficulty," Karolyi says,
"but her progress and dedication are remarkable." --B.C.
COLOR PHOTO: HEINZ KLUETMEIER Godina, world champ in the shot put in 1995, bombed in '99 butis poised for the push to Sydney.