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Archive for Friday, July 21, 2000

Gray fails in bid for fifth Olympics

July 21, 2000

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— Johnny Gray's bid to make history is over, and so is his illustrious career.

The 40-year-old Gray, the American record-holder for 800 meters, was trying to make a record-tying fifth Olympic team Thursday night.

It was a disastrous effort.

"I quit," Gray said. "I'm officially retired. I'm ready to go to Masters tomorrow. You'll never see Johnny Gray line up at this stage of competition again."

After leading for 500 meters, the leg-weary and ailing Gray faded so badly he finished last in his first-round heat at 1 minute, 53.21 seconds -- more than 10 seconds slower than his record of 1:42.60.

It was the third consecutive time he ran over 1:50 since straining a calf muscle.

Despite Gray's downfall, the crowd of 23,124 at Sacramento State's Hornet Stadium gave Gray a rousing ovation, aware of his numerous accomplishments over the years.

Gray responded by taking a reverse victory lap and throwing his shoes that he wore in winning last year's Pan American Games into the stands.

Gray, an Olympian in 1984, '88, '92 and '96, was attempting to tie Carl Lewis for most appearances by a male on U.S. teams. If Gray had made it, he would have been the first to compete in five games. Lewis missed the 1980 Olympics because of the U.S. boycott of the Moscow Games.

Gray's only medal was bronze in the 1992 games. He also has won seven national championships and two Pan American Games gold medals, the first in 1987.

Now, his career is at an end.

Lance Deal is enjoying his final year of competition in the hammer throw, especially the trials so far.

Less nervous than he was four years ago, Deal unleashed a throw of 245 feet, 11 inches, leading the qualifiers into Friday's final.

To relieve the tension, Deal, the 1996 Olympic silver medalist, went to Europe before the trials.

"I wanted to make this meet less nerve-wracking," he said.

His 7-year-old daughter, Sarah, also tried calming her father.

"I was talking to my daughter this morning and she said, 'Just pretend you're at the Olympics.'

"I said, 'I can't do that. I have to be where I'm at. Otherwise, things go screwy."'

Things have not gone screwy too often for Deal.

For the past decade, he has been the best hammer thrower and 35-pound weight thrower in the United States.

He has won six national hammer throw titles and been a three-time Olympian. He's won two Pan American Games titles and been a two-time silver medalist at the World Cup and once at the Goodwill Games.

Indoors, he owns the world record in the weight throw and has won 12 national indoor titles, more than any other athlete.

Deal opened the qualifying at 232-5, only six inches short of the automatic qualifying distance, then got it on his second attempt, despite hitting the cage with his implement.

Kevin McMahon, the 1997 U.S. champion and 1999 Pan Am silver medalist, was the only other automatic qualifier at 235-5.

The decathlon began in hot, humid conditions, and without Dan O'Brien, the world record-holder and Olympic champion who withdrew because of a foot injury.

O'Brien's heir apparent, Chris Huffins, opened a 100-point lead after the first four of the 10 events -- the 100, long jump, shot put and high jump.

Huffins, the 1998 and 1999 U.S. champion and 1999 World Championship bronze medalist, ran the fastest time, 10.45 seconds, in the 100; had the best long jump, 25-10; was second in the shot put at 47-11, and tied for third in the high jump at 6-11 among the 16 competitors. That gave him 3,685 points.

The Clark sisters -- Hazel, 22, and Joetta, 37 -- won their opening-round heats in the women's 800. Hazel was timed in 2:01.78 and Joetta 2:02.18, the two-fastest times.

Their sister-in-law, Jearl Miles-Clark, already a member of the 400 team, finished second to Hazel at 2:02.07.

Derrick Adkins, the 1996 Olympic gold medalist in the men's 400 hurdles who has been plagued by depression, insomnia and paranoia in recent years, advanced to Friday's semifinals.

Looking anything but like the smooth, graceful hurdler who won at Atlanta four years ago, Adkins finished second in his opening-round heat at 49.84. Eric Thomas, last year's Pan Am silver medalist, had the fastest time in the first round, 49.25.

Connie Price-Smith, a 21-time national champion indoors and outdoors, led the qualifying for Friday's women's shot put final at 57-4 3/4.

Vanitta Kinard, a former Big 12 champion from Kansas State, led the qualifiers in the women's triple jump with a career-best 45-4 1/4. Sheila Hudson, the American record-holder and two-time Olympian, also qualified for Saturday's final at 44-6 1/4.

Only two finals were scheduled Thursday night -- the men's javelin and 3,000 steeplechase.

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