On in an Off Year
Three bright new faces brought luster to track and field's
Though post-olympic years in track and field traditionally are of
less than stellar vintage, 2001 left fans with at least a few
memorable tastes. Maurice Greene, confirmed both his greatness
and his grit, dragging a gimpy leg across the finish line to win
the 100-meter title at the worlds in Edmonton in August. At that
same meet, Zhanna Pintusevich-Block of Ukraine ended Marion
Jones's 56-race winning streak at 100 meters. Jones earned new
respect by being gracious in defeat--then went out and beat
Pintusevich-Block three times in subsequent meets. Stacy Dragila
continued to scale new heights, taking her world record in the
pole vault to 15'9 1/4".
As is often the case, however, the emergence of new faces gave
the year its fizz. By the time the season wrapped up with the
Goodwill Games in Brisbane and the IAAF Grand Prix Final in
Melbourne last weekend, several previously unheralded athletes
had burst onto the scene. Here's a look at three of them.
--Andre Bucher, 24, Switzerland Until last year a moderately
accomplished 800-meter runner, Bucher made the Sydney final, but
in a rough race was nearly elbowed off the track and finished
fifth. This season he won 11 of 12 races, consistently running
from the front and dominating the event. Bucher, who clinched the
overall IAAF Grand Prix title with a victory in Melbourne, says
he still panics when caught in traffic. This year, he simply
--Felix Sanchez, 23, Dominican Republic The New York City-born,
San Diego-raised Sanchez became the most successful runner ever
to represent the Dominican Republic, the birthplace of his
father, when he won the 400-meter hurdles at the worlds and then
ran his PR (47.38 seconds) last month in Zurich. A promising
outfielder at University City High in San Diego, Sanchez broke
his right wrist wrestling during his sophomore season. Unable to
play ball with his hand in a cast, he went out for track.
Sanchez, who says he has run seriously for only two years, didn't
even break 50 seconds until 1998.
--Avard Moncur, 22, Bahamas The Auburn grad became the first
runner from the island nation to win an individual track event at
a worlds or Olympics when he won the 400 in Edmonton. Moncur grew
up training on a grass field at Fort Charlotte, where Henry
Rolle, now Bahama's chief running guru, began to mentor him.
Rolle recalls begging officials to put his protege on the
nation's junior team. Soon Moncur's beaming face will adorn a
mural that will greet travelers in Nassau International Airport.
Michael Johnson Retires
Putting MJ into Perspective
Just how good was Michael Johnson? His absence from high-level
200-and 400-meter races this season (he ran a few lesser races
and relays during a low-key farewell tour) gives a hint. Remember
the yawning gap between Johnson and runner-up Frankie Fredericks
(19.32 seconds to 19.68) in the 200 final at the Atlanta Games?
Consider that Fredericks would have beaten the gold medalist at
the 2001 worlds, Konstadinos Kederis of Greece (20.04), by
roughly the same margin. Only once this year did anyone run a
sub-20 200; Johnson did it 23 times in his career. He also ran 22
sub-44 400s; only once this year did anyone break 44.45. Put
today's champs into one of Johnson's signature races, and you'd
have to photograph it from the front to get MJ and the also-rans
in the same frame.
To catch up with rivals Irina Slutskaya of Russia (who on
Saturday took the Goodwill Games gold medal) and Michelle Kwan
of the U.S. (who finished second), Kwan's 16-year-old
countrywoman Sarah Hughes is preparing a long program for the
Olympics that will include as many as three triple-triple
If you build it, they will invoke sponsorship protection. Salt
Lake organizing committee officials have told Steve Ames, of
Farmington, Utah, that he must plow under the Olympic-rings
design in his cornfield or fork over rights fees of a reported
$10,000. Ames has been charging visitors $5 each to walk through
the corn rings....
Korean archery officials dropped four Olympic medalists from the
team that will compete at the worlds next week for eschewing a
training camp that required the archers to stay up all night,
clean up sewage, stare at dead bodies and climb a mountain with
weights on their backs.The bizarre regimen was designed to make
the archers mentally and physically tough.
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES Traumatized by traffic in Sydney, Bucher dominated the 800 this year with front-running tactics.