Season of Change?
Summer is set to sizzle, with plenty of hot-button issues heading into the nationals
There's no Olympics or world championships on the schedule in 2002, making this one of those off years when track and field athletes tweak technique, try a different coach, switch sponsors and even experiment with new events. Here are four important questions in the run-up to the U.S. Nationals in Palo Alto, Calif., June 21-23.
I. Will multitalented Marion Jones finally master the long jump?
Not this year. Though her long jump technique still needs major work, Jones is committed exclusively to sprinting this summer. She's balancing her training evenly between the 100 and the 200 meters, both of which she plans to run at the Nationals. The five-time Olympic medalist says that to challenge either of Florence Griffith-Joyner's 14-year-old records in those events, she needs to devote hours to the minutiae of sprinting. "We're talking about a whole day just to work on the angles of my hands or the tilt of my chin," Jones says. "If my chin is too high, then my head goes back, and that throws off my entire upper body."
II. What's the hottest event in U.S. track and field these days?
Would you believe the men's shot put? At the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., last month, Kevin Toth, Adam Nelson and John Godina all surpassed 71'10", marking the first time three U.S. competitors had done so at the same meet. In fact, the top 15 throws of 2002 belong to Americans—and these aren't your typical dour behemoths. Nelson fires up the fans by clapping, prancing and flinging warm-up gear before his throws, and when Toth and Godina join in, the crowd loves it even more. "The shot put is quickly becoming the most electric event in track and field," says Nelson, the silver medalist in Sydney whose toss of 73'10�" at a meet in Portland last month was the best by an American since 1990. "To people who used to get psyched for the sprints or the mile, we are the buzz now? Marion Jones concurs. In the press tent during the shot put competition in Eugene, she said over the crowd roar, "They're stealing our thunder."
III. What's the latest Webb site?
It won't be Michigan for long if Wolverines freshman Alan Webb decides to turn pro before next fall. At South Lakes High in Reston, Va., Webb became the fastest U.S. prep miler in history, running 3:53.43. But he has been less dynamic in college. At the NCAA championships in Baton Rouge earlier this month he finished fourth, a performance he called "the end of an incredibly terrible year" Webb, who could command a six-figure income with a shoe contract and appearance fees on the pro circuit, would likely reunite with Scott Raczko, his coach at South Lakes. More important, by turning pro Webb could forgo the cluttered collegiate schedule and train so as to peak for specific meets.
IV. How long until Stacy's sweet 16?
It's only a matter of time before Olympic pole vault champ Stacy Dragila becomes the first woman to clear 16 feet. But don't count on her doing it this year. Dragila, who has raised the world record eight times, most recently to 15'9�" last June, says she doesn't yet have the strength and control to switch from her 14'7" poles to a 15-footer, which could fling her higher. "I have 10 poles now," she says. "When I don't have any more big heights left in them, I'll probably take the step up." Svetlana Feofanova of Russia is Dragila's closest rival with a vault of 15'7", but no other American woman has cleared 15'2".