Originally created 07/31/05

Young track and field stars taking over

The conquering kids of America, a fresh wave of Caribbean speed, yet another tireless troop of Africans and a Russian female version of Sergey Bubka. The young have taken over track and field, and not just in the United States.

Most are in their early 20s, some still in their teens. Several already own Olympic medals, and many will add to their collection at the World Championships on Aug. 6-14 in Helsinki, Finland.

They aren't as familiar as Marion Jones, Michael Johnson, Maurice Greene or Gail Devers, but give them time, because theirs might be the deepest and most talented generation in the sport's history.

Among the best of the U.S. contingent: Justin Gatlin (100 and 200 meters), Jeremy Wariner (400), Sanya Richards (400), Allyson Felix (200) and Kerron Clement (400 hurdles). Gatlin is the oldest at 23.

Internationally, start with 23-year-old Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele, who broke the world 5,000 and 10,000 records in a nine-day span last year and is entered in both events in Helsinki.

Bekele outran his famous countryman, Haile Gebrselassie, to win the Olympic 10,000 in Athens.

Bekele and a rising contingent of even younger Ethiopians will do battle with traditional nemesis Kenya, whose top runners include Isaac Kiprono Songok, 21, and Eliud Kipchoge, 20.

The fastest of the Caribbean sprinters, Asafa Powell of Jamaica, is doubtful for the worlds after tearing a groin muscle at the Crystal Palace meet July 22.

Powell, just 22, set the world 100 record at 9.77 seconds in June, but the fans at Olympic Stadium in Finland could be deprived of his much-anticipated showdown with Olympic gold medalist Gatlin.

The safest bet for a world record is remarkable Russian Yelena Isinbayeva in the pole vault.

After all, she's broken it 17 times - four in the past month. At Crystal Palace, Isinbayeva broke her world mark twice and became the first woman to clear 5 meters (16 feet, 4 inches). Bubka, who was watching, set 35 world pole vault records.

"I would like to have 36 world records," Isinbayeva said. "It's my new goal."

She has no world championships, though, finishing third in Paris two years ago.

The IAAF, the sport's international governing body, promises its largest anti-doping effort, with more than 850 tests before, during and after the competition.

No sport has been tainted more by performance-enhancing substances than track and field.

The young stars say they welcome the chance to put a shine on track's tarnished image.

"I hate it when people say "Is he or she on drugs?' " said Richards, a 20-year-old who has run under 50 seconds in the 400 five times this year and beat Olympic champion Tonique Williams-Darling in Switzerland a month ago. "I know that with the new crop of athletes, and us running fast and doing it the right way, it will definitely reflect well on the sport."

Gatlin rebuts concerns about his coach, Trevor Graham, who sent the vial containing the designer steroid THG to U.S. doping authorities to show them what some athletes were using to avoid detection. Several of Graham's athletes in years past have tested positive for steroids.

"I know what to say 'no' to and what to say 'yes' to," Gatlin said.

For a reminder of the past, though, there is American Allen Johnson, at 34 seeking his fifth world title in the 110 hurdles. Johnson ran under 13 seconds for the 10th time in his career at the U.S. championships.

Among his chief rivals are a pair of those pesky youngsters.Liu Xiang of China is the reigning Olympic gold medalist and Ladji Doucoure of France has the world-leading time of 12.97.

Both are 22.


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