Carter: `I haven't run my best yet'

Baltimore Olympic hurdler continues to improve times

July 24, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

SACRAMENTO, Calif. - James Carter is to return tonight to Baltimore, where he will be embraced by family and friends as an Olympian.

Two days ago, the 22-year-old graduate of Mervo High added the brightest detail to his meteoric rise in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles. He finished third at the U.S. Olympic trials and earned a trip to Sydney, Australia, where he could be a medal candidate if he continues the improvement he has made the past two months.

Carter has stories to tell his mother, Marilyn Knight, and his prep coach, Fred Hendricks. After his race Saturday, agents who want to represent him talked him up, but the most touching aspects of his breakthrough here are of the men who took an interest before he earned an Olympic berth.

The previous graduate of a Baltimore area high school to run Olympic track was Dulaney's Bob Wheeler, in the 1972 1,500, but that fact comes with an asterisk. Cliff Wiley, who went to Douglass High, qualified for the 200 in 1980 but never made it to Moscow because of a U.S. boycott demanded by President Jimmy Carter.

Wiley attended the trials here, and he sought out James Carter after Thursday's preliminaries.

"I met Cliff a couple of years ago," Carter said. "After the first round, he told me to just keep working. He stressed that I had a real shot of being on the team, that it doesn't matter who the favorite is."

Fellow Baltimorean Torrance Zellner, 30, was in the same semifinal as Carter late Friday night, and saw a fifth-place finish effectively end his Olympic dreams.

"I spoke to Torrance yesterday [Saturday] morning," Carter said. "Before the race, he said, `Represent me, too.' Afterward, his parents [Curtis and Betty] congratulated me."

Two months ago, Carter's personal best was the 49.45 he achieved last year. He ran the race of his life Saturday and was timed in 48.46.

It was the fourth PR he has run this year, but Carter said there were flaws in his race.

"The first six hurdles, I led with the wrong leg," Carter said. "I've dropped a second off my personal best in the last two months, and there are two months left [before the Olympics].

"I've wanted to run 48 seconds for a year, and now 47 is a possibility. That's the goal now. I haven't run my best race of the year yet."

Carter said he will hone his form in races in Europe next month, then make his way to Sydney.

It is heady stuff for someone who was ranked 10th in the U.S. last year, when he finished third in the NCAA championships for Hampton University.

"I don't have any idea what this means to me yet," Carter said yesterday. "I used to like it when I heard All-American before my name. Olympian sounds even better."

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