SACRAMENTO, Calif. - Gail Devers was not distraught after she placed fifth in the 100-meter dash at the U.S. track and field trials for the Olympic Games last Saturday. She won the gold medal in the 100 in 1992 and '96, but now she might actually take in the opening ceremonies in Sydney, Australia.
"I've never been to the opening ceremonies," Devers said. "I've always been sitting back in my hotel room, resting and getting ready for the start of the 100 the next day. I can't ever remember marching in the opening ceremony of an Olympics or a world championship.
"Maybe this is the year I'll be able to sit back and enjoy the experience of the Olympic Games."
Devers still plans to play a prominent role Down Under. Despite her two Olympic victories in the 100, she's actually had a more consistent career in the 100 hurdles. She added her third world championship in the hurdles in August, when she lowered her American record to 12.37 seconds.
Devers will run the first round of the 100 hurdles today and is expected to qualify for her fourth Olympics in the event tomorrow.
The Olympic hurdles have been one barrier after another for Devers, who's 34. In 1988, she was in awe of Bulgarian record holder Yordanka Donkova; four years later she was in the lead until she fell over the last hurdle; and she was a unfulfilled fourth in Atlanta in '96.
"Maybe this is the year I get the hurdles together and work on my technique, instead of looking like a sprinter trying to get over the hurdles," Devers said. "Everyone thinks I'm a hurdler instead of a sprinter, but you can't prove it by the medal count."
Devers' bout with Graves Disease is ongoing. Her thyroid gland malfunctioned in 1989 and '90, and at one time she was days away from having both feet amputated.
"I'll take medication every day for the rest of my life," Devers said. "When I can't get to sleep here, people ask if that's because I'm nervous. No, it's insomnia caused from the medication I take for Graves Disease. If I'm up late, I just try to find `Lucy' reruns."
Devers' bedtime habits have also been affected lately by a splint she has had to wear on her right ankle every night. She pulled her left hamstring in late April, then compensated and injured her right heel. A plaster cast on that ankle wasn't removed until June 18.
Even with that hitch in her training, Devers came within .03 second of taking third in last Saturday's 100.
"Just because I didn't make the team in the 100 doesn't mean I'm not fast," Devers said.
The men's 110 hurdles, which will also be run over today and tomorrow, does not have a star of the magnitude of Devers. It does have three men who have run 13.01 or better; the reigning Olympic champion in the unassuming Allen Johnson, and an amazing comeback story in the person of Larry Wade.
A 25-year-old Texan who was the NCAA champion for Texas A&M two years ago, Wade moved to Los Angeles to train with HSI International. Earlier this year his car was cut off and totaled in an crash that left him with life-threatening injuries. Presumably, he's the only competitor at the trials who has had open-heart surgery.
"When I got out of the hospital, I had to learn how to walk before I could run," Wade said. "Being able to hurdle is a blessing."
Like Maurice Greene, Wade is coached by John Smith, who said he expects his top hurdler to make the U.S. team.
"No pun intended, this is just another hurdle for him to go over," Smith said. "He's gone from being fed intravenously to being ready to compete for an Olympic berth. The human body is incredible."
End of the road
When you leave Ocean City via the U.S. 50 bridge, there's a sign that lists the mileage to Sacramento.
That U.S. route terminates here, and yes, on a freeway on the west side of town there's a sign that reads: "Ocean City, Md., 3,073 miles."
It was erected by the California Department of Transportation in the early 1990s, at the request of then Ocean City Mayor Roland "Fish" Powell.