Championships get U.S. in the run Burrell's record, new stars paint better picture for Worlds

June 17, 1991|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondent

NEW YORK -- There was nothing wrong with the state of American track and field that couldn't be solved by one world record and the emergence of several new stars.

Despite small crowds and less than ideal conditions, the USA/Mobil Championships at Downing Stadium adequately showcased the talents of the American performers. From the shortest race to the longest event, the Americans created a formidable team for the World Championships in Tokyo, Aug. 23-Sept. 1.

"We're going to be strong," Carl Lewis said. "We've got a lot of depth."

Leroy Burrell's world record of 9.90 seconds in the 100 meters dominated the four-day championships, but his performance was only part of a larger story -- a formal changing of the guard of the sport's elite.

Some old reliables remain. Lewis was just one stride behind Burrell in the 100, and his 10-year, 65-meet winning streak in the long jump was still intact after a breathless duel with Mike Powell.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee lived up to her title as the world's greatest female athlete, doubling in the heptathlon and the long jump.

Greg Foster won the 110-meter hurdles title to keep alive his bid to become a three-time World Champion.

Michael Johnson, the 1990 Track and Field News Athlete of the Year, beat Burrell decisively in the 200.

"I've still got a lot of work to do," Burrell said after he finished second in the 200. "I accomplished what I wanted, and that was to make the team in two events. But to win gold medals in the 100 and the 200, I'll have to get stronger and I'll have to prepare better."

The roll call of new stars was led by Dan O'Brien. He piled up 8,844 points in the decathlon, emerging as the country's first gold-medal threat in the event since Bruce Jenner won the 1976 Olympic championship in Montreal. The confrontation between O'Brien and Christian Plaziat of France will be among the more eagerly awaited at the World Championships.

In the women's 1,500 meters, Suzy Favor Hamilton elbowed aside PattiSue Plumer before a swift, closing kick. Hamilton is sure to be called the next Mary Slaney in the next few months. But unlike Slaney, who pulled out of the heats with a leg cramp, Hamilton brings a tougher style to the event.

A trio of women also recorded 1991 world bests. Carlette Guidry (10.94 seconds in the 100), Lillie Leatherwood (49.66 in the 400) and Kim Batten (54.18 in the 400 hurdles) improved their World Championship medal chances.

Antonio Pettigrew (44.36 in the 400), Mark Everett (1:44.28 in the 800), Mark Croghan ( 8:21.65 in the steeplechase) and Danny Harris (47.62 in the 400 hurdles) also recorded world best times.

As usual, the U.S. World Championship team has gaping holes in the weight events. But the Americans may be able to squeeze medals from high jumpers Hollis Conway and Yolanda Henry. Despite the shortcomings in the field events, the U.S. easily should match its count of 10 gold medals achieved at the 1987 World Championships in Rome.

"Everyone has only one goal this year," Johnson said. "Everyone is shooting for a World Championship gold. That's the only thing that matters."

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