PALO ALTO, Calif. - James Carter has been to the Olympic Games and been a busy traveler on the international circuit the past three years.
But he has never won a national championship gold medal, either, and he figures it's about time.
This afternoon, for instance.
After a stadium-record time of 49.47 seconds in the semifinals of the men's 400-meter hurdles at the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships yesterday at Stanford University's Cobb Track, Carter is rated as a top choice in today's eight-man final.
"The wind was a little tough, so I got out a little faster than usual, then just stayed relaxed off the second turn and brought it on in," Carter, 24, said.
The 1996 Mervo graduate, who placed fourth in the 2000 Olympics final and ran third in the most recent two national finals, made the semifinals look easy, breezing in ahead of Eric Thomas (49.80). Joey Woody, the former Northern Iowa star who won the other semifinal (49.73), figures to be Carter's primary rival today.
"My goal in the finals is [to run] something in the 48-lows, or 48-mid," Carter said. "That should put me right in there."
Carver alum Bernard Williams is poised for his own run at the gold. Williams, an Olympic 200 relay gold medalist and the third-place finisher in the 100 at the 2001 world championships, cruised through the first round of the 200 last night in 20.87, looking around as he did it.
Williams, who owns a career best of 20.01, will have to run a lot harder in today's semifinal and final, where top threats include Floyd Heard (20.54 yesterday), Shawn Crawford (20.64) and Ramon Clay (20.65). Penn State's Ryan Olkowski, a Calvert Hall graduate, advanced with a 21.09.
University of Maryland star Thema Napier is a national 400-meter hurdles finalist, too. A 57.93 fourth-place finish in the semifinals was her ticket to today's eight-woman final.
"This is great, this is exciting," Napier said. "I felt strong, I felt great. I came in saying I wanted to run close to my personal record [57.73] and I did."
Torrance Zellner's bid for a national title in the 400 hurdles, however, was put on hold for another year.
A 1988 graduate of Woodlawn and a former college star at Florida, Zellner, 32, had placed third (1994 and 1999), fourth (1993) and fifth (1991 and 1996) in previous trips to the nationals.
But, running out of the tough eighth lane, he bowed out yesterday with a fifth place (51.15) in his semifinal.
"Sure it's frustrating, very frustrating," said Zellner. "Especially since I had the second-best time in the U.S. [48.81 at a May meet in Qatar] coming in. But my Achilles' tendon has been bothering me; maybe now I need some rest."
America's Olympic 100-meter dash champions are still in dominating form. Minutes after Marion Jones (11.01) fought off Chryste Gaines (11.05) to win her fifth straight women's 100 crown, Maurice Greene (9.88 with a slight aiding wind) edged Tim Montgomery (9.89) for the men's title.