- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 21, 2004

ATHENS — Alan Webb was outmaneuvered and outrun in the first round of the 1,500 meters, forcing a quick exit for the runner who was supposed to end years of American middle distance mediocrity.

While the 21-year-old Northern Virginia runner faltered, the U.S. squad’s most storied Olympian — 37-year-old Gail Devers — barely survived the second round of the women’s 100. She captured the 16th and final spot in today’s semifinals, running 11.31 and avoiding elimination by a hundredth of a second.

Webb was trying to end a 36-year U.S. medal drought in the Olympic 1,500. Twenty-four runners advanced; Webb had the 25th-fastest time. His 3:41.25 was eleven-hundredths of a second too slow.

Stuck in the middle of the field for most of the race, Webb was unable to break out of the pack by looping outside. When he tried to break through, he got jostled.

“It was like a football game,” Webb said afterward, blood running down his lower right leg. He said he got spiked 200 meters into the race.

Webb’s veteran teammate, Grant Robison, advanced to the 1,500 semifinals when an appeals jury ruled that he had been seriously affected by obstruction during his heat.

The last American to win an Olympic 1,500 medal was Jim Ryun, now a Kansas congressman, who won silver in 1968.

Meanwhile, in the 10,000-meter, Kenenisa Bekele crossed the finish line, took a few deep breaths and then waited for his mentor. A pained Haile Gebrselassie arrived 22 seconds later and the two Ethiopians hugged — the old champion giving way to the new.

Sprinting the final lap, Bekele ended Gebrselassie’s eight-year reign as Olympic 10,000-meter champion last night, smashing his training partner’s Olympic record by more than two seconds.

The two then clasped hands and joined yet another countryman, silver medalist Sileshi Sihine, in a victory lap beneath their green, yellow and red flag.

Bekele finished in 27 minutes, 5.10 seconds. Sihine, about 30 meters behind Bekele, clocked 27:09.39, followed by Zersenay Tadesse of Eritrea in 27:22.57. Gebrselassie, pained by a left Achilles’ injury in the final track appearance of his magnificent career, finished fifth in 27:27.70.

The 31-year-old Gebrselassie, who plans to move up to the marathon, began showing the strain with seven laps remaining in the 25-lap race. His face contorted, he fell behind the leaders and looked as if he was going to stop. But after struggling through the last few laps, his face broke into a giant smile as he crossed the finish line.

“It was very hard. I’m very close just to stop the competition,” Gebrselassie said, limping away from the track. “I wanted to keep up with them. It didn’t happen. I am so happy for the Ethiopians except for myself. I tried to push.”

Bekele and Sihine slowed midway through the race so Gebrselassie could join them.

“We believed he could catch up to us,” Bekele said. “When we realized he couldn’t make it, we had to go.”

The passing of the torch from Gebrselassie to the 22-year-old Bekele highlighted the first day of track competition at the Olympic stadium.

In the 400, three American men — Jeremy Wariner, Derrick Brew and Otis Harris — advanced easily to the semifinals. Wariner, the U.S. champion, jogged the last few meters while winning his heat in 45.56. The fastest time was 45.09 by Christopher Brown of the Bahamas.

In the women’s 100, dominated by the United States for the past 20 years, Yuliya Nesterenko of Belarus had the fastest times in the first (10.94) and second (10.99) rounds. Also advancing were gold-medal favorite Christine Arron of France and Bulgaria’s Ivet Lalova — fastest in the world this year, with a 10.77 race in June.

They will be joined by 44-year-old Merlene Ottey, seeking a ninth medal in her seventh Olympics. The Jamaican native is now running for Slovenia.

Devers joined teammates Lauryn Williams and LaTasha Colander in the semis. Williams won her second-round heat in 11.03 seconds, the second-fastest time overall.

Missing from the 100 were defending Olympic champion Marion Jones, world champion Torri Edwards, plus Kelli White and Chryste Gaines. Edwards and White are serving drug suspensions. Jones and Gaines did not qualify. Jones is under investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and Gaines has been charged by USADA with steroid use. Both claim they have never used performance-enhancing substances.

Yesterday morning under a blazing sun, Ivano Brugnetti of Italy won the 20-kilometer walk in 1:19:39, five seconds ahead of Francisco Fernandez of Spain. Nathan Deakes of Australia took the bronze.

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