Rocket runs out of fuel in 100 at Penn Relays Notre Dame's Ismail finishes in last place


PHILADELPHIA -- Maybe he'll do better against the Winnipeg Blue Bombers.

But against a field of seven competent 100-meter sprinters at the 97th Penn Relays yesterday, Notre Dame's multimillionaire football player Raghib "Rocket" Ismail finished last.

The Rocket, who is bound for the Canadian Football League's Toronto Argonauts in June, led for 50 meters, but was reeled in by his opponents and watched from the rear as Jon Drummond of Texas Christian won the Invitational College Men's race in 10.23 seconds.

"It went just the way I expected it to go," said Ismail, a former high school sprinter who finished eighth in 10.61 seconds. "The way things have gone for me the last two weeks, I didn't have a chance to work out. I didn't want to disappoint the fans, but I knew that I would disappoint the fans. But I figured, what the heck, I'd give it a shot."

Actually, in a meet that built its reputation on luring the nation's top high school and college teams in a three-day celebration of amateur track and field, a last-place finish by a professional athlete was, perhaps, the perfect touch.

And Ismail wasn't the only pro to fail. The Santa Monica Track Club attempted to break the world record in the 400 relay, 37.79, but a dropped baton exchange from Carl Lewis to anchor Mark Witherspoon ended the bid; the Florida Clippers won in 39.22.

But the Santa Monica sprinters, wearing shimmering beige uniforms with black thunderbolts, came back ferociously to win the Olympic Development 800 relay in 1 minute, 19.45 seconds.

It was a breathtaking finish to an extraordinary day of track and field witnessed by 41,612 fans who gathered at Franklin Field.

* Wearing red, white and blue socks and brandishing American flags on the victory lap, Georgetown reveled in its victory in the men's 4 x 1,500 relay. The foursome of Rich Kanar, Peter Sherry, Steve Holman and John Trautmann was clocked in 14:53.34, fastest ever by an All-American college team.

* Peter Rono, the Kenyan-born 1988 Olympic 1,500 champion who races for Mount St. Mary's, won the Jumbo Elliott Mile in 3:58.31.

* Tony Barton, a Milford Mill High School graduate competing for George Mason University, won the college men's high jump title at 7 feet, 3 1/4 inches.

* Cheryl Taplin, Dahlia Duhaney, Heather VanNorman and Ester Jones led Louisiana State to the women's college 800 relay title in a meet-record 1:32.2.

Even though it was uncharacteristic for an individual performer to dominate the Penn Relays, Ismail's mere presence in Philadelphia was clearly a highlight. This was Ismail's first appearance on the track since he snubbed the National Football League earlier this month and signed his multimillion-dollar contract with the Argos.

Ismail was involved in two false starts but received a reprieve from officials who said crowd noise caused the missteps. Ismail's competitors weren't as charitable. "People say that you're fast, and that's fine for football," Ismail said. "But in order to be top-notch on the track, you've got to put in time. Talent will get me to 50 meters, but after that, it's work. And I didn't put in the work."

Despite his last-place effort, Ismail received cheers from the crowd. Meanwhile, the Santa Monica stars were booed after their botched baton pass in the 400 relay.

"In Philadelphia, a boo means you've made it," Lewis said.

But later, on the cloudless, warm afternoon, the crowd was on its feet roaring for Lewis and his teammates, Joe DeLoach, Leroy Burrell and Floyd Heard. Their electrifying run in the 800 relay was a perfect blend of sheer speed on the track and subtle touch on the handoffs and they narrowly missed breaking their world record of 1:19.38.

"We came here to get howls from the crowd," Lewis said. "We wanted to make sure the world knows which is the best relay team in the world. Everyone says that this is the best meet in the United States, period. Well, this can be the best meet in the world, period."

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