ATLANTA -- Track and field's over-30 set is expected to have the biggest impact at the USA Indoor Championships, which begin today at the Georgia Dome.
Johnny Gray, oldest of the old-timers at 39, would like to see the youngsters step up in his specialty, the 800 meters, but no one has met the challenge consistently.
"They're scared to challenge themselves," said Gray, a seven-time national outdoor champion, four-time Olympian and the 1992 games' bronze medalist.
Gray, who will be seeking his first indoor title, has not shown any signs of slowing down. Last year, he won his second Pan American Games title, 12 years after winning his first, and this season won the Millrose Games for the second straight time.
"I feel just as strong if not stronger now," Gray said.
Gray feels he can compete for another three years.
Two others in the two-day meet -- weight thrower Lance Deal, 38, and women's shot putter Connie Price-Smith, 37 -- don't plan to try to match Gray's longevity. They have said they will retire after this season.
Deal, the 1996 Olympic silver medalist in the hammer throw, made his decision last year while struggling to recover from foot surgery.
The owner of the world best in the 35-pound weight throw at 84 feet, 10 1-4 inches, Deal will be seeking his 12th indoor title. If he wins, he would hold more firsts in one event than any athlete in the meet's 112-year history -- he now is tied with former women's 400-meter runner Diane Dixon.
Price-Smith has been the national indoor champion in the shot put five times, the outdoor champion in the shot nine times and the discus champion six times.
"I decided I would go four more years after '96 because I wanted to do four Olympics," she said. "Not many have done four.
"I've been doing this for a long time. It gets harder and harder at 37."
Among the other 30-plus athletes expected to strongly contend for titles are women's miler Regina Jacobs (36), women's 400-meter runner Jearl Miles-Clark (33), men's pole vaulter Jeff Hartwig (32), men's shot putter Kevin Toth (32), men's sprinter Jon Drummond (31) and women's sprinter Carlette Guidry (31).
Jacobs, the 1995 indoor mile champion and the 1999 winner at 3,000 meters, is returning to the mile. She is coming off an emotionally disappointing bid to break the world 1,500-meter record Tuesday night, falling more than seven seconds short.
A record performance would have been worth $20,000. In the national championships, a world record in the men's and women's mile, the men's and women's 60 meters and the men's and women's pole vault will be worth $50,000 each.
Jacobs said she wouldn't be mentally ready to challenge the world mile mark of 4 minutes, 17.14 seconds held by Romania's Doina Melinte.
Miles-Clark, who plans to run 800 meters at the Olympics, the event in which she holds the American outdoor record, will seek her fourth straight indoor title in the 400.
Hartwig, the American indoor and outdoor record-holder in the vault, set the U.S. indoor mark of 19-5 at last year's championships, then improved the height to 19-6 1-4 at the World Championship.
Toth, who competed in the 1997 World's Strongest Man contest, and Guidry, a gold medalist in the 400 relay at the '96 Olympics, each will be seeking a second indoor title, while Drummond, a 400 relay silver medalist at the '96 games, will be chasing his first championship.
The top younger entries include Stacy Dragila, world indoor record-holder and co-outdoor world record-holder in the women's pole vault; Tisha Waller, American indoor record-holder in the women's high jump; and Tim Harden, who handed world record-holder Maurice Greene his only indoor defeat last season in the 60 at the championships.
Today's schedule includes finals in the men's triple jump and women's pole vault and long jump. The remaining 28 finals will be Saturday.
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