American men have won the 400-meter hurdles at the past five Olympics.James Carter is the most likely candidate to keep that streak going.
The BALCO doping scandal threatens to obscure anything good about Americantrack and field, to the detriment of veterans like Carter, an irrepressiblenative of Baltimore who overcame illness as a child and the lack of a track atMervo High to finish fourth at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
Georgia Tech's Angelo Taylor won that Olympic final, in 47.50 seconds. Theonly American to approach that level of performance since has been Carter, whowent 47.57 in August 2002. That's when Carter was second in a Grand Prix meetin Zurich, Switzerland, to Felix Sanchez, the only man who has consistentlybroken 48 seconds in recent years.
"Other than Sanchez, who's gone faster than me?" said Carter, who focuseson his own agenda. "I basically don't try to worry about him. I work hard, tostay in shape, and stay healthy."
Sanchez, a two-time world champion from the Dominican Republic, was Track &Field News' 2003 Man of the Year. Carter spent much of that campaign on theshelf, nursing a strained ligament in his lead leg, but he is quiteenthusiastic about the start of this Olympic year.
On May 8, the day after he turned 26, Carter was second to Japan's TamesueDai at a Grand Prix meet in Osaka, Japan, but Carter's time of 48.99 was hisfastest season opener.
"I was behind the eight ball, too, running in Lane 8," said Carter, whoshould be accorded more respect than that at an invitational. "I thought so,but they went off of what happened last year."
Carter came up lame a year ago, then somehow managed to finish fourth atthe national championships. That place kept him out of the worldchampionships, and he spent some of last season's down time studying thehistory of his event.
Anyone who has ever sprinted and then gone over a barrier knows of EdwinMoses, who won 107 finals from 1977 to 1987, but Carter is channeling thekarma of Kevin Young, and not because he set a still-standing world record of46.78 at the 1992 Olympics.
"That was Young's second Olympics," Carter said. "Four years earlier, hewas fourth. That's where I finished in 2000."
That in itself was heady stuff for Carter, who was in the seventh gradewhen he had his thymus removed because of myasthenia gravis, a neuromusculardisease. He went to Hampton University with no experience in the 400 hurdles,which didn't seem like a big deal, because Mervo didn't have a track.
Four years ago, Carter posed for photos at Mervo, where the grounds werebeing graded for a track. It has been built, but a lawsuit regarding thatproject means that the Mustangs still can't run there.
"I was in Baltimore last weekend," Carter said. "It's frustrating to seethat the school has something, but that the kids still can't use it. I got outof Mervo in 1996. It's time that thing opened."
Maturity and weight training, incorporated into his regimen starting in2001, have added 10 pounds to Carter since 2000. He has spent the past eightyears at Hampton, where he's a volunteer assistant coach some springs. "I'vefound a comfort level here," Carter said. "If I get attention, I appreciateit. If I don't, that's OK, too."
Baltimore City was rich in talent eight years ago, when Carver had BernardWilliams (Carver), an Olympic gold medalist in the 400 relay. Both he andCarter have circled Aug. 26, when the finals of the 200 sprint and 400 hurdleswill be conducted at the Olympics in Athens, Greece.
Both brought home an unflattering image from Sydney, where Williams was ona winning relay team that was reprimanded for an over-the-top celebration, andCarter was booed after taunting the men who trailed him in a semifinal.
"I'm out for gold," Carter said, "especially in a year when they'recracking down on drug usage. A lot of people are going to be mortal."
Olkowski comes on
Ryan Olkowski will be joining Carter at the U.S. Olympic trials in July inSacramento, Calif.
A stellar jumper at Calvert Hall who added sprinting to his portfolio atPenn State, Olkowski has blossomed into a decathlete to watch. A year ago, hehad never pole-vaulted higher than 13 feet. Last weekend, he soared 15-5 1/2en route to scoring 7,895 points and winning a decathlon at his home track.
Olkowski has the 10th highest score among qualified American athletesheading into the U.S. trials.
The U.S. swimming trials open in 38 days. It could take 45 to find outexactly what Michael Phelps of Rodgers Forge plans for his Olympic program.... Add PowerBar to his list of sponsors. ... Phelps and eight other membersof the North Baltimore Aquatic Club are spending two weeks in the altitude ofthe U.S. Olympic Committee's training center in Colorado Springs, Colo. ... Atthe rate NBA All-Stars are dropping off the U.S. men's basketball team,Carmelo Anthony (Towson Catholic) could get an invitation to Athens.
Games at a glance
When: Aug. 13-29
Where: Athens, Greece
Web site: www.athens2004.comCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun