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Devers Wins U.S. 100-Meter Hurdles

June 24, 2002

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STANFORD, Calif. (AP) _ Eventually Gail Devers won’t outrun Father Time. She is giving him a great race, though.

At 35, Devers won her eighth U.S. 100-meter hurdle championship and her 10th national title overall on a sunny, breezy Sunday at Stanford’s Cobb Track. Her time of 12.51 seconds was the fastest in the world. Only one of her titles came in a faster time, in 2000 when she ran 12.33.

Just 5-foot-3, with a constant smile and an indomitable spirit, Devers is showing no signs of slowing down.

She calls 2002 the year of her rebirth.

``I feel at 35 that I’m stronger than ever, I’m learning more, I feel good,″ she said.

Her age is, if anything, a motivation, even if she won’t commit to running past her next race.

``I’m proud of my age,″ she said. ``I get e-mails from women who are in the 35-to-40 group, and they say `Wow.′ There were some ladies down there who came to the practice track to see me warm up. They said, `First of all, you’re short like us, and you’re running fast, and you’re like our age.‴

Devers won her first U.S. championship in 1991, when she was just 24. She has three world championships in the hurdles, and was a silver medalist in the event at the worlds last year. But her two Olympic gold medals are not in the hurdles, her best event, but in the 100 meters.

She refuses to look ahead to Athens in 2004 for a final shot at that elusive hurdles gold. She would be a little over a month shy of her 38th birthday.

``Yeah, that is the one medal I don’t have,″ Devers said. ``And yes, if you look at the Olympic book, you probably wouldn’t ever know I ran the hurdles. But I want to dominate my event, and learn my event even more so ... then the times are going too fast and I will be satisfied. I can’t tell you if I’m going to be here in 2004.″

The daughter of a Baptist minister, she plans to preach the gospel of track and field through the next two years, and if she can mix competing in with that, then fine.

``I want to do more clinics. I want to do more things on the speaking side of track and field. Nobody encourages their kids to be involved in track and field anymore because they don’t see a future in it, but there is a future in it,″ she said. ``Even if our kids don’t aspire to be an Olympic athlete, so many things can be learned from being involved in sports. That never give up attitude, you can take that to any arena.

``If I can do that up to 2004, I’ll pick and choose my races and you’ll see me on the line. Other than that, I can’t tell you.″

Devers has primarily been coaching herself lately. She lives in Atlanta. Her coach longtime Bob Kersee lives in St. Louis.

``This is a year for me that I decided I needed to figure it out on my own,″ she said. ``I can still call Bobby on the phone. It’s one of those things that you grow up and you’ve got to figure it out on your own.″

That Devers has lasted so long as an athlete is even more remarkable considering her fight against Graves disease from 1988-91, when she was days away from having her feet amputated. Diet and medication kept the disease under control, and she was the upset winner of the gold medal in the 100 in Atlanta in 1992.

She was on her way to a gold in the 100 hurdles in Atlanta when she fell on the final barrier. She was fourth in the Olympic hurdles in 1996, and pulled up with a hamstring injury in the semifinals at the Sydney Games in 2000.

Yet she still is at it, not even hinting when she might retire.

``All of my life I’ve wanted to be an inspiration to the young and to the old,″ she said. ``I’ve been blessed to have longevity in this sport. I have finally in my life let go and let God take control. He’s doing what he wants to do with me.″

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