On in an Off Year
Three bright new faces brought luster to track and field's post-Sydney season
Though Post-Olympic years in track and field traditionally are of less than stellar vintage, 2001 left fans with at least a few memorable tastes. Maurice Greene, confirmed both his greatness and his grit, dragging a gimpy leg across the finish line to win the 100-meter title at the worlds in Edmonton in August. At that same meet, Zhanna Pintusevich-Block of Ukraine ended Marion Jones's 56-race winning streak at 100 meters. Jones earned new respect by being gracious in defeat—then went out and beat Pintusevich-Block three times in subsequent meets. Stacy Dragila continued to scale new heights, taking her world record in the pole vault to 15'9�".
As is often the case, however, the emergence of new faces gave the year its fizz. By the time the season wrapped up with the Goodwill Games in Brisbane and the IAAF Grand Prix Final in Melbourne last weekend, several previously unheralded athletes had burst onto the scene. Here's a look at three of them.
?Andre Bucher, 24, Switzerland Until last year a moderately accomplished 800-meter runner, Bucher made the Sydney final, but in a rough race was nearly elbowed off the track and finished fifth. This season he won 11 of 12 races, consistently running from the front and dominating the event. Bucher, who clinched the overall IAAF Grand Prix title with a victory in Melbourne, says he still panics when caught in traffic. This year, he simply outran it.
?Felix Sancliez, 23, Dominican Republic The New York City-born, San Diego-raised Sanchez became the most successful runner ever to represent the Dominican Republic, the birthplace of his father, when he won tire 400-meter hurdles at the worlds and then ran his PR (47.38 seconds) last month in Zurich. A promising outfielder at University City High in San Diego, Sanchez broke his right wrist wrestling during his sophomore season. Unable to play ball with his hand in a cast, he went out for track. Sanchez, who says he has run seriously for only two years, didn't even break 50 seconds until 1998.
?Avard Moncur, 22, Bahamas The Auburn grad became the first runner from the island nation to win an individual track event at a worlds or Olympics when he won the 400 in Edmonton. Moncur grew up training on a grass field at Fort Charlotte, where Henry Rolle, now Bahama's chief running guru, began to mentor him. Rolle recalls begging officials to put his prot�g� on the nation's junior team. Soon Moncur's beaming face will adorn a mural that will greet travelers in Nassau International Airport.
Michael Johnson Retires
Putting MJ into Perspective
Just how good was Michael Johnson? His absence from high-level 200- and 400-meter races this season (he ran a few lesser races and relays during a low-key farewell tour) gives a hint. Remember the yawning gap between Johnson and runner-up Frankie Fredericks (19-32 seconds to 19.68) in the 200 final at the Atlanta Games? Consider that Fredericks would have beaten the gold medalist at the 2001 worlds, Konstadinos Kederis of Greece (20.04), by roughly the same margin. Only once this year did anyone run a sub-20 200; Johnson did it 23 times in his career. He also ran 22 sub-44 400s; only once this year did anyone break 44.45. Put today's champs into one of Johnson's signature races, and you'd have to photograph it from the front to get MJ and the also-rans in the same frame.
To catch up with rivals Irina Slutskaya of Russia (who on Saturday took the Goodwill Games gold medal) and Michelle Kwan of the U.S. (who finished second), Kwan's 16-year-old countrywoman Sarah Hughes is preparing a long program for the Olympics that will include as many as three triple-triple combinations....