Work in Sports
Out of the shadows
Despite controversy, track athletes excel
SYDNEY, Australia -- Facing the shadow of more doping violations, Track and Field carried on splendidly on Monday with a night that will be tough to top at these Games. Some highlights of the evening's events:
Cathy Freeman: Nothing was riding on Freeman's race in the 400-meter final on Monday -- except the hopes of her team, her race and her country. It was the naturally shy Aborigine's moment to shine. After surviving the cold and rain in her Sunday semi, Freeman chose to wear a full bodysuit for the first time during the competition. She ran a poised and controlled race, and ignored the obvious angst of the crowd that watched her fall behind Jamaica's Lorraine Graham after 200 meters. Rather than a hopeful exhortation, it was the sort of group "Eee-gads!" you hear when a head gets chopped off during a horror flick. But Freeman overpowered the field down the backstretch, taking the next three runners (Graham and British teammates Katharine Merry and Donna Fraser) to personal records and winning in 49.11, the fastest time of the year. Freeman then ran a victory lap carrying both an Australian flag and an Aboriginal one. Asked if anything could top a month in which she lit the cauldron at the opening ceremony and then won a gold medal, Freeman answered, "I have a pretty creative imagination, but I can't think of anything like that."
Stacy Dragila: The acknowledged queen of the pole vault was just one miss away from leaving Sydney without an Olympic medal. Dragila, who owns 14 U.S. national records, has always jumped better as competitions drag on. She cleared successfully on her third try at 4.50 meters just to stay in the competition, but still stood in fourth place after the clearance. Russian-born Australian Tatiana Grigorieva dueled Dragila down to the last jump, finally missing at 4.65. Dragila also missed at that height, but had cleared 4.60, while Grigorieva had passed to the next height.
Maria Mutola: The four-time Olympian won Mozambique's first Olympic gold medal on the country's national holiday when she captured the 800 meters in 1:56.16. She was the pre-race favorite before the Atlanta Games, but settled for bronze there. It was her country's first Olympic medal. Despite being the dominant runner at this distance over the past decade, Mutola had only one world title, the gold she won in Stuttgart in 1993, before coming to Sydney. Mutola had originally taken up track at age 14 when parents complained about her presence on a boys' soccer team.
Jonathan Edwards: The vicar's son has been the sport's true gentleman competitor now for the better part of a decade. At the 1995 world championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, the Briton became the first man to eclipse both the 18-meter and 60-foot standard in the triple jump, but his CV was missing an Olympic gold medal. At 34, Edwards was looking at his last chance. With his whitening hair and twiggy arms, he looks like the sort who would have to talk his way into the Olympic village, even with a credential. "And what, precisely, do you expect us to believe is your sport, mate?" He is surely the only athlete at this meet who has ever skipped a world championship, as he did in 1991, because the finals fell on a Sunday, which is his day to worship. During the past few months, Edwards has begun to find his form again. He nailed his third jump for 17.71 meters and then watched the field take dead aim at it for the rest of the night. Cuba's Joel Garcia came closest, hitting a jump for 17.47 on his last attempt.
Haile Gebrselassie: When the Kenyans originally tabbed Paul Tergat to run the 5,000 rather than 10,000, it seemed a great shame the sport would be denied a showdown between the world's premier distance runners: Tergat and Ethiopia's Gebrselassie, who hadn't lost at this distance in seven years. This could be one of the great sprints to the finish in the history of distance running, many believed. Then Tergat talked Kenyan officials into letting him run the 10 because of some strong showings during the summer. The race was on -- and the result was great. Tergat led three times in the final lap and seemed to have fought off Gebrselassie's final charge until the Ethiopian sprinted past him in the final few meters. They looked like fresh quarter-milers as Gebrselassie crossed first in 27:18.20, just .09 ahead of Tergat in a race that lasts longer than six miles.
Gabriella Szabo: You want an ambitious double? Well, Romania's Szabo is trying it here in Sydney by running in both the 1,500 meters and the 5,000. In Monday's 5K she held off Ireland's Sonia O'Sullivan over the last 70 meters, a point in races when she is not often pushed. Given the Ethiopians' frequent pushes and pulls at the pace for much of the race and O'Sullivan's formidable kick at the end, this was the most impressive race the world's premier middle-distance female has run to date.
Sports Illustrated writer-reporter Brian Cazeneuve is in Sydney covering the
Games for the magazine and CNNSI.com. Check back daily to read Cazeneuve's
behind-the-scenes reports from Down Under.