Young is aiming high, seeking unprecedented double in hurdles

May 24, 1992|By Ron Reid | Ron Reid,Knight-Ridder News Service

NEW YORK -- The Olympic trials for U.S. track and field athletes start four weeks from Friday, and it is Kevin Young's plan to make the occasion a twice-told tale of personal success.

When the nation's best runners, jumpers and throwers gather in New Orleans next month to try to qualify for the U.S. team that will compete in the Olympic Games in Barcelona, Spain, Young hopes to complete an unprecedented double.

He hopes to run not only the 400-meter intermediate hurdles -- the event in which he has been an NCAA champion, an Olympian and a world-class performer since 1988 -- but also the 110-meter high hurdles, a race he last contested six years ago, as a UCLA freshman.

It is doubtful that anyone anywhere has ever tried the hurdles double in world-class competition, let alone in an Olympics qualification event. Four weeks before of the event, reason says Young won't do it, either.

Young might have concentrated only on his specialty were it not for a new motivational factor this season, something called personal enjoyment.

In addition to quicker starts, better technique and faster times, it has become important to the 25-year-old Californian that he has some fun with his training and his races along the way.

"This year, I'm just going to run to have a good time," Young said Thursday at a New York Games news conference. "When I ran in the Olympics in 1988, I was kind of stressed. I had listened to my critics. Now I'm more focused. In Seoul, I was disappointed at first that I'd gotten a fourth place, but then I realized I'd really achieved a lot. I'd come out of the inner city, and I'd been able to run with the world's best. I count my blessings. In 1992, I know I'm going to be competitive. I'm performing for Kevin Young, not for my critics."

The only hurdler using a 12-step stride pattern between hurdles through most of his race, Young lowered his personal best to 47.72 seconds in the 1988 Olympics, even though he hit the eighth barrier with his trailing leg.

Critics have pointed out that the 6-foot-4, 170-pound Young has run well since that occasion, but never any faster.

Troubled by injuries that have hurt his fitness and diminished his potential, Young instead has frequently turned in performances like he did last summer in Zurich, Switzerland -- good, but slightly disappointing.

Leading that race through its early stages, Young couldn't hold his pace and gave ground in the stretch. He was passed, first by Danny Harris, then by Samuel Matete, the U.S.-trained hurdler from Zambia, who won in 47.10.

Young was timed in 47.83, his seasonal best mark and a prelude to a fourth- place finish at the World Championships in Tokyo and a No. 5 world ranking for the year.

That seems hardly the springboard for a heavier workload, but Young says the high hurdles keep him from feeling low.

"This year I feel a lot stronger and more confident in myself," he said. "I feel good. Training this year for the high hurdles takes my mind off the intermediates, and that's good. And I like it when other competitors don't expect to run as fast as I can. I'm looking forward to it in New Orleans."

Young's confidence seems reasonable enough. Last week in Modesto, Calif., running most of his race into a blustery head wind, he was timed in 48.22.

Young's best time for the 110-meter high hurdles is 13.65. The Olympic qualifying standard is 13.80.

Young will run only the longer race today in the New York Games -- the first of two U.S. stops next week, including the Bruce Jenner Invitational -- on the 1992 Mobil Grand Prix outdoor circuit.

His competition, at Columbia University's Wien Stadium, will include such familiar American rivals as David Patrick and Derrick Atkins, as well as such newcomers as Kenya's Eric Keter.

Keter, 21, who trains without a coach, says he learned the event by looking at pictures of hurdlers in a magazine, then copying them on the track.

"He jumps on the hurdle like a little deer," said Young, who pointed out that Keter improved his personal-best time in each round of the World Championships. "But he could be a lot better with a coach to help him keep the air time down."

Hurdling self-taught, Keter concedes, hardly comes without pain.

"I have fallen many times," he said.

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