Sydney, Australia The events U.S. track fans have been waiting for finally arrive today with Marion Jones and Maurice Greene both favored for gold in the 100 meters.
The sport's biggest names put on a show as track and field began at the Sydney Olympics on Friday.
Jones ran into the semifinals of the women's 100 with a time of 10.83 seconds, the second-fastest clocking in the world this year. Michael Johnson and Cathy Freeman both had easy wins in first-round heats of the 400.
Greene, the world record holder and Olympic favorite, raced into the semifinals with a time of 10.10 in the second heat. His Sydney housemate and training partner Ato Boldon will join him in the semifinals.
Off the track, the Americans had little to smile about in the field events this morning (Friday night EDT). Lance Deal, a silver medalist at the 1996 Atlanta Games and the grand old man of U.S. hammer throwing, ended his Olympic career in disappointment.
Deal and the other Americans in the hammer, Jud Logan and Kevin McMahon, all failed to advance out of the qualifying round.
"Someone asked to take my picture out there and told me to smile. It's hard to force a smile when you feel like crying," Deal said.
Deal, who had done little training the last few weeks because of a back injury, was 16th in the qualifying round. McMahon was 36th and Logan was 39th. Only the top 12 advanced to finals.
Deal, 39 and a four-time Olympian, said it was his next-to-last competition he'll retire after the Grand Prix Finals next month.
All three American men in the 800 meters Mark Everett, Bryan Woodward and Richard Kenah flopped in Saturday's first round as well.
And when the women's heptathlon began today with the 100-meter hurdles and high jump, Kelly Blair-LaBounty was not there. She had left Sydney and flown home to Seattle, where her husband plays for the Seahawks, because of problems with a spinal injury that has bothered her all year.
The Americans expect better things tonight. Joining Greene in the 100 semifinals were teammates Jon Drummond and Curtis Johnson.
But defending champion Donovan Bailey, who spent the past few days battling the flu, ran out of steam in his second-round heat and was eliminated.
"I shouldn't have run," the Canadian said. "But I've never been one to back down, and I'll go out fighting. This is the Olympic Games."
Joining Jones in the semifinals of the women's 100 was U.S. teammate Chryste Gaines. Torri Edwards, a late replacement for the injured Inger Miller, was fifth in her second-round heat and failed to advance.
Also reaching the semifinals was Merlene Ottey, a seven-time Olympic medalist who substituted at the last minute for teammate Peta-Gaye Dowdie.
Freeman, seeking to become the first Aborigine to win an individual Olympic gold medal, received thunderous applause from her fellow Australians in the 110,000-seat Olympic Stadium.
Freeman won her heat in 51.63 seconds. She has not lost a 400-meter race in three years and is even more of a favorite at the Sydney Games now that two-time defending champion Marie-Jose Perec has fled the Olympics.
And there were some unlikely stars. Arsi Harju of Finland won the men's shot put and Robert Korzeniowski of Poland got gold in the men's 20-kilometer walk despite not crossing the finish line first.
Harju won the shot with a toss of 69 feet, 10 1/4 inches. The other two medals were taken by Americans Adam Nelson was second with a throw of 69-7, and 1996 silver medalist John Godina won bronze with 69-6 3/4.
Godina was a late replacement for U.S. teammate C.J. Hunter, the reigning world champion. Hunter dropped out after arthroscopic knee surgery.
The first track medal of the games was mired in controversy. Mexico's Bernardo Segura crossed the finish line first in the 20-kilometer walk, but was disqualified for breaking contact with the ground.
In the men's high jump, defending champion Charles Austin failed to advance out of the qualifying round. But 1992 Olympic champ Javier Sotomayor, who returned to competition in mid-August after track and field officials cut in half a two-year ban for cocaine use, reached the final.