Dragila vaults to 1st

Johnson repeats in 400

15-1 effort Games first

sprinter, Gebrselassie add to brilliant feats

Track and field

Summer Olympics

September 26, 2000|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

SYDNEY, Australia - Stacy Dragila turned to the crowd and said, "I'm not finished."

It was a reference to Dragila's desire to take another stab at raising her world record in the first Olympic women's pole vault after she had secured the gold medal last night, but it served as a statement for track and field.

The sport took a hit with the news that C. J. Hunter, the husband of Marion Jones, had tested positive for steroids, but a series of thrilling finals at Olympic Stadium were the perfect tonic to the talk of nandrolone and drug testing.

A record crowd of 112,524 got much more than another ground-breaking night for Cathy Freeman, the Aborigine who claimed the 400 meters nine days after she lighted the Olympic flame. It saw an engaging assortment of elite athletes collect their first Olympic gold, and Michael Johnson and Haile Gebrselassie reassert themselves as two of the Games' greatest figures.

Dragila out-dueled Australia's Tatiana Grigorieva, who was born and raised in Russia. The American went 15 feet, 1 inch, but neither could clear an attempt at 15-3, which would have set the world record. A one-time rodeo queen, Dragila made like a newlywed after she received her medal: She turned her back and tossed her bouquet into the stands.

Maria Mutola, who moved from Mozambique to Oregon as a schoolgirl, finally became an Olympic champion in the 800 as a 27-year-old woman. It was her country's first gold medal, and it came on a national holiday.

Great Britain's Jonathan Edwards took the triple jump in his fourth Olympics, and Romania's Gabriela Szabo held off Ireland's Sonia O'Sullivan, who first gained acclaim at Villanova, in the women's 5,000. With the silver, O'Sullivan won Ireland's first track medal ever.

Champions all, but none of the caliber of Johnson and Gebrselassie, who repeated in events that they have come to call their own. Johnson once again stamped his Texas footprints all over the 400, and Gebrselassie took a 10,000 that turned into the Rift Valley Invitational.

Johnson, 33, became the first man to execute the 200-400 double in Atlanta four years ago, and last night he became the first to win two gold medals in the 400. The world-record holder in both events, Johnson was unable to defend the 200 after he and Maurice Greene pulled up lame in the U.S. trials. Last night, there was little of the attention that surrounded him in Atlanta four years ago, and he didn't mind that the focus is on Jones and Freeman.

His race came 15 minutes after Freeman's.

"That didn't upset me at all," Johnson said. "There was a lot of energy in the stands, and that only made our race better. ... I knew coming in that this was not going to be the same situation as Atlanta. That's something that happens only once in a lifetime, once in a career. It's something that I honestly wouldn't want to go through again. I got gray hairs just thinking about this 400."

There was no need to fret. Johnson had a five-meter lead at the 150 mark on Jamaican Gregory Haughton, who had moved to Waco, Texas, to train with Johnson and his coach, Clyde Hart. Haughton was passed by American Alvin Harrison, who took the silver. Johnson ran under 44 seconds for the 23rd time in his career, coming home in 43.84.

His bulge on Harrison was .54 of a second. Cuba's Anier Garcia won the 110 hurdles by .16. Even Greene had a larger cushion in the men's 100 last Saturday than Gebrselassie had over Kenyan Paul Tergat in the 10,000.

Gebrselassie, who owns 15 world records and appears older than 27, has dealt with a leg injury this year, but he was still the man to beat in a five-man pack that separated itself from the rest of the field with 1,000 meters left. It included a fellow Ethiopian and three Kenyans, the most dangerous being Paul Tergat, the man Gebrselassie needed a 57.5-second last lap to beat in Atlanta.

Tergat made a bold move on the backstretch: He abruptly jumped to the outside, passed Gebrselassie and two others and took the lead. Gebrselassie also geared up, and the two were shoulder-to-shoulder for most of the final furlong. The Ethiopian didn't pull ahead until the last two meters, finishing in 27 minutes, 18.20 seconds. His margin of victory over Tergat was less than a tenth of a second as Gebrselassie covered the final 200 in 26.0.

"One thing we have to know," Gebrselassie said. "Which medal to have for me, it's only gold. If it's silver or bronze for Haile Gebrselassie, no one would accept it."

Gebrselassie played himself in the cinematic version of his life story. He developed a crook under his left arm because that's where he carried his schoolbooks on his six-mile run to school as a boy. He would retrace the path on his way home.

After his latest Olympic race, Gebrselassie wrapped himself in a large Ethiopian flag that also cloaked countrymen Assefa Mezgebu, who took the bronze, and Girma Tolla, who finished 11th. Tergat had a Kenyan banner just as big, and shared it with Patrick Ivuti and teen-ager John Korir, who were fourth and fifth, respectively.

When Gebrselassie set his world record of 26:22.75 two years ago, it broke down to nearly a 4:11 mile pace. The topic of limits came up when Johnson was asked what the world record in the 400 would be in 2100.

"Forty-three point one eight," he said, citing the standard he set at the world championships last year.

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