- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 22, 2004

ATHENS — Two decades of American dominance in the 100 meters ended yesterday when Yuliya Nesterenko rode a powerful closing surge to overtake Lauryn Williams, nipping the newest American track star at the finish.

Nesterenko, a Belarusian who never had broken 11 seconds before the Olympics but did it in all four rounds here, won gold in 10.93 seconds. Williams, the NCAA champion from the University of Miami, was second in a personal-best 10.96. Veronica Campbell of Jamaica got the bronze in 10.97.

Nesterenko got out to an early lead, then Williams overtook her with about 30 meters remaining. But the taller Nesterenko used her longer stride to catch the 5-foot-3 Williams in the closing meters.

Silver was just fine for Williams, a talkative 20-year-old who just a few months ago was taking college classes. It was made sweeter by the presence of her father, who has leukemia and came to Athens after a $10,000 donation from a cancer survivor in his home state of Pennsylvania.

When the race was over, Williams saw a replay of her parents celebrating in the stands. David Williams, who must undergo periodic dialysis because of kidney failure, had missed his daughter’s races on Friday.

“They showed them actually on the screen at the finish line so I got to see them and they were going crazy,” Lauryn Williams said. “I’m so glad he made it here, because he missed the first two races.”

David Williams jumped for joy and began accepting handshakes as soon as the results were posted on the scoreboard.

“Even on my best days, I don’t have the strength she has,” he said.

The only other American to reach the final, U.S. champion LaTasha Colander, was last in 11.18.

Americans had won the previous five gold medals in the women’s 100. But defending champion Marion Jones finished fifth at the U.S. trials. Gail Devers, the winner in 1992 and 1996, was eliminated in the semifinals. Florence Griffith Joyner won in 1988 and Evelyn Ashford was the 1984 champion.

The event was missing numerous top sprinters involved in doping investigations.

World champion Torri Edwards and Kelli White are serving drug suspensions. Chryste Gaines, who like Jones did not qualify, has been charged with steroid use. Jones is being investigated. Jones and Gaines claim they never used performance-enhancing substances.

Earlier yesterday, Stacy Dragila failed to make it out of pole vault qualifying, a shocking performance by the medal favorite and former world record holder.

Dragila, who won the vault when it debuted as a women’s event at the 2000 Olympics, missed three attempts at 14 feet, 51/4 inches (4.40 meters), well below her best of 15 feet, 10 inches (4.83). After her third miss, she shook her head in dismay, seemingly stunned. Then she slowly packed up her gear, put on a cap and headed off the field.

“This is something I should be able to do in my sleep,” she said later, between sobs.

Her sudden elimination was another blow to U.S. hopes of surpassing its total of 20 medals from the 2000 Games. It came three days after a disappointment in the men’s shot put, in which the U.S. squad hoped for a sweep but ended up with only Adam Nelson’s silver medal.

In the men’s 100, the world’s top sprinters played a lightning-quick game of “Can You Top This?” — even though it was only the second round.

Five men broke 10 seconds yesterday, with Shawn Crawford’s 9.89 the best of the round. And several top competitors slowed before the end, which means there could be some incredibly fast times in the semifinals and final tonight.

Carolina Kluft of Sweden won the heptathlon with a score of 6,952. Austra Skujyte of Lithuania won silver and Kelly Sotherton of Britain took the bronze. In the discus, Natalya Sadova of Russia won gold with a toss of 219 feet, 10 inches (67.02), Anastasia Kelesidou of Greece thrilled the huge crowd by winning silver and Irina Yatchenko of Belarus took the bronze.

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