Aging Lewis, 34, finds young legs in Atlanta Torrence, 31, shows she still has it, too

June 15, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- The feeling in track and field these days is that the top American athletes are getting old, and that next month's Olympic Games will be the last hurrah for many of them. But the feeling yesterday for the first day of the U.S. Olympic trials is that while some of these 30-something stars aren't as good as they used to be, they are still good enough to represent their country.

Though a few showed signs of age, in particular heptathlete Jackie Joyner-Kersee, most showed something to their younger competitors and the sparse crowd at Olympic Stadium.

One who has seemingly clicked his biological stopwatch is Carl Lewis. The most celebrated, not to mention the most decorated, athlete of his Olympic generation continued his comeback with two solid performances in the 100 meters.

Looking to make his fifth Olympic team and fourth Olympic competition -- he made the team in 1980 but stayed home as part of the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games -- Lewis advanced to tonight's semifinal by finishing seventh overall with a time of 10.16 seconds

"This is a four-round marathon," said Lewis, 34, who will be looking to equal, and possibly break, the record of nine gold medals should he make it back here for the Atlanta Games. "I was pleased with the way I ran, but I know I can run better."

Another who doesn't seem affected by the date on her birth certificate is Gwen Torrence. Reportedly on orders from Nike, her sponsor, the last angry woman of track let her feet, rather than her usually foot-embedded mouth, speak for her. Torrence, who turned 31 earlier this week, breezed to easy victories in the first two heats of the 100 meters.

"I feel good," said Torrence, the current women's world record-holder. "I'm just trying to stay focused and not worry about outside things. And in trying to do that, I am going to focus on my running and not saying things negative that I'll read in the newspaper the next day."

While Lewis and Torrence were expected to make it through in their respective 100s, world record-holder Leroy Burrell and reigning Olympic champion Gail Devers were considered question marks coming into the competition because of injuries.

Burrell, who has been bothered by foot and ankle problems, finished fifth in his opening heat, but came back with a time of 10.01 in the quarters. Devers, whose hamstring injury has been limited to only one meet this year -- she finished sixth in a meet here last month -- looked strong.

"If I stay healthy and execute what Bobby [Kersee, her coach] tells me to do, I'm hopeful I'll be on the team," she said.

Said Burrell, 27: "I didn't run the first race. I ran the second. That's the difference. I want to be aggressive in tomorrow's race. went out a little wired in the first race. The heat kind of got to me in warm-ups."

The heat -- it was measured at 112 degrees on the track yesterday afternoon -- got to Joyner-Kersee. Her struggle yesterday wasn't with the competition, but with her own body.

After twisting an ankle in the high jump portion of the heptathlon -- the second of four events -- the 34-year-old Joyner-Kersee suffered leg spasms while running to victory in the 200 meters. Joyner-Kersee, who has been plagued by ankle and leg injuries the past year, received treatment for 30 minutes after the 200, the final heptathlon event of the day, and declined comment.

"Jackie was dehydrated and felt some spasms in her legs from the heat," said Al Joyner, the athlete's brother. "She's back at the hotel resting but she's OK and will be ready for tomorrow."

Perhaps the most heartwarming of the stories belonging to the ** 30-somethings here was staged by Mary Decker-Slaney. One of the most star-crossed of athletes in Olympic history, Decker-Slaney advanced to the women's 5000 at age 37. She won her heat easily.

"I'm starting to feel like I used to and that's a good thing," she said. "Obviously, the finals are going to be a lot faster, but I'm ready."

NOTES: Three former Morgan State students are competing in the trials: Jack Pierce, who won the bronze medal in the 110 hurdles at Barcelona; Rochelle Stevens, who was sixth in the 400 meters at Barcelona, and Wendy Vereen, who is competing this year in the 100 and 200 meters. Several athletes with local ties also will be competing for other countries. Coppin State's Twana Allen will be running in the 800 meters on June 29 in the Jamaican trials. Morgan State's Ameerah Bello will try to make the U.S. Virgin Islands team in the 200 meters, and Philipa Arnett will run the 200 and 400 at the Bahamas trials. Also, Morgan State track coach Neville Hodge is coaching the Virgin Islands team.

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