Cool, Calm Wariner Races to 400 Gold
ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ Jeremy Wariner is just 20 years old. He just led a U.S. sweep in the 400 meters at the Olympic Games. So c’mon kid, get excited! Cool, calm and with a fluid running style all his own, the lean Baylor University student raced to the gold medal Monday night wearing sunglasses, two earrings and a jingling necklace.
After crossing the line, he waved a U.S. flag and embraced the teammates who finished right behind him. But there was no massive show of emotion. That’s not his style.
``It hasn’t sunk in yet,″ he said. ``I have a four-by-four relay I’ve got to concentrate on. It’s going to hit me in a couple of days but I’ve got to get focused right now.″
So it was left to others to marvel at the talent exhibited by Wariner, who outsprinted teammate Otis Harris down the stretch to win in a personal-best 44 seconds flat, the fastest time in the world this year.
``I’ve never seen a white man run that fast,″ said Grenada’s Alleyne Francique, who was supposed to be Wariner’s biggest threat but finished fourth. ``It was a blazing race, man. The kid is good.″
Wariner has become accustomed to the race issue, as a rare white man running sprints that traditionally have been dominated by blacks.
``It doesn’t matter what race you are,″ Wariner said. ``It’s just ability. I’ve had a great coach, and he knows what he’s doing.″
Harris, 22, was second in 44.16. Derek Brew, the old man of the U.S. crew at 26, finished third in 44.42.
The United States has dominated the event since 1984, winning 13 of the 18 medals in the last six Olympics. Americans also swept at the 1988 Seoul Games.
The three Americans hugged in the finish area, then began a slow victory lap with three U.S. flags.
``We’re definitely going to take the 400 meters back to where Michael Johnson left off,″ Harris said. ``You know the young guys here are definitely excited about the future.″
Wariner has been tabbed the successor to Johnson, who ruled the 400 for more than a decade, still holds the world record of 43.18, and won gold medals in the 1996 and 2000 games. Wariner even has Johnson’s old coach, Clyde Hart.
``I’m happy for Jeremy, but I’m so very happy for coach because I think a lot of people didn’t give him the credit he deserved,″ said Johnson, who was in Athens as a commentator for the BBC. ``He’s just an incredible coach and it’s because he’s a teacher. He teaches athletes how to run.″
The United States has won 18 of the 24 times the event has been held in the Olympics, including four medal sweeps _ 1904, 1968, 1988 and this summer.
Also Monday, world champion Tom Pappas struggled and was in fifth place through five events of the decathlon. U.S. teammate Bryan Clay was in third. Dimitry Karpov of Kazakhstan led going into Tuesday’s competition, 95 points up on world record-holder Roman Sebrle of the Czech Republic. But Sebrle was poised to make a strong bid for the gold that eluded him four years ago in Sydney, where he was the silver medalist.
Britain’s Kelly Holmes held off three competitors, including defending champion Maria Mutola, to win a thrilling women’s 800 in the closest Olympic finish in history.
Holmes, a bronze medalist at the 2000 Sydney Games, finished in 1 minute, 56.38 seconds _ her eyes wide, mouth open and arms spread like wings as she crossed the line just ahead of Morocco’s Hasna Benhassi and Slovenia’s Jolanda Ceplak. Both were timed in 1:56.43, and it took a photo to determine Benhassi had captured the silver medal.
Mutola faded in the final few strides to finish fourth in 1:56.51. Jearl Miles Clark of the United States led for most of the race, but ran out of energy on the final stretch and finished sixth.
Hungary’s Robert Fazekas won the discus with an Olympic-record toss of 232 feet, 8 inches (70.93 meters). Lithuania’s Virgilijus Alekna, the defending champion, got the silver and Hungary’s Zoltan Kovago got bronze.
Francoise Mbango Etone of Cameroon won the triple jump, followed by Hrysopiyi Devetzi of Greece and Tatyana Lebedeva of Russia.
In the women’s 200, 18-year-old Allyson Felix led three American women into the semifinals Monday, winning her heat in both the first and second rounds.
Felix is the youngest athlete on a U.S. track team that is showcasing its youth in Athens.
``That’s the theme,″ Felix said. ``We’re just trying to bring a new wave here and get people thinking positive things about track and field. We’re just so eager. We have the passion. All this is so new to us. We’re just taking it all in.″