PHILADELPHIA -- The sun finally came out at the 106th Penn Relays yesterday. Additional heat was supplied by Marion Jones, Michael Johnson and Maurice Greene.
The world's three dominant sprinters could combine for 10 gold medals in Australia, and they provided American track and field with an early Olympic year boost by headlining some sprint relays that were sold as the "USA vs. the World." Jones provided the exclamation point for 45,203 at Franklin Field, as she anchored a world record in the 800 relay.
LaTasha Jenkins, LaTasha Colander-Richardson, Nanceen Perry and Jones were caught in 1 minute, 27.46 seconds, shaving .69 off the mark set by East Germany two decades ago.
They had 15 minutes' notice that they would team in an event that is not part of the Olympic program, and Jones' preparation has been considerably more deliberate since last summer, when back spasms forced her out of the world championships in Seville, Spain.
A child prodigy in California who added to her legend by also starring in basketball at North Carolina, Jones raced her first furlong since she pulled up in the 200 at the worlds. She is stronger than ever, and aiming for five gold medals in Sydney: in the 100, 200, 400, 1,600 relay and long jump.
"This is the highlight of my season," said Jones, who opened with a 49.59 in the 400 at the Mount SAC Relays this month. No American woman ran faster last year.
Johnson thinks he can repeat his three gold-medal haul from Atlanta, but Greene wants to get in his way in the 200. Acclaimed as the "World's Fastest Human," because he holds the 100 record of 9.79, Greene is ready to extend his dominance to the 200, but Johnson has been untouchable in that event and the 400.
Greene anchored winning 400 and 800 relays, the former in 38.22, while Johnson spun a 43.7 split on the end of a 2: 56.60 1,600 relay. A second U.S. team tracked down the Jamaicans, leading to a chant of "1-2, 1-2" directed at the green and gold portion of the stands.
"I viewed this as an opportunity to entertain the crowd," Johnson said. "Mission accomplished."
The 400 relay was notable because it might have signaled a new era for the U.S. men. Jon Drummond, Tim Harden and Tim Montgomery all ranked in the top five nationally last year behind Greene, who completed an uneventful effort of 38.22. Selection politics and sloppy exchanges have limited the U.S. to one gold medal in the event in the last three Olympics.
"What you all saw was an elimination of some of the problems of the past," said Drummond, who is a training partner of Greene's. "In years past, clubs had controversy against each other."
That was a veiled dig at Carl Lewis, whose Santa Monica Track Club used to loom over Olympic baton work. Yesterday's harmony was funded by GMC Envoy and Nike, who provided appearance fees.
In the prep program, the boys from Oakland Mills were the fastest American quartet in the 400 relay. If their time of 41.42 wasn't an area record, it's close.
It got the Scorpions second place in the final for smaller schools, behind Camperdown of Jamaica. Only three other teams, all from Jamaica, ran faster in the Championship of America final.
Sophomore Chris Barksdale, senior Jeff Johnson and juniors Stefan Pastor and Kyle Farmer ran the race for the first time in Friday's trials, when they obliterated their school record of 42.9.
"I was just hoping that we would get a chance to race today," coach Sam Singleton said. "We had never advanced here before. We didn't have any designs on winning until today."
Farmer has battled a hamstring injury this spring, but he was strong enough to run a 47.1 split in yesterday morning's 1,600 qualifying. The Scorpions were timed in 3: 25.84, and Woodlawn was the only area team to run faster. Anthony Jenkins, Jeron White, Clevon Johnson and Antonio Thomas teamed for the Warriors, who had the 11th-fastest time in qualifying.
NOTES: Columbia resident Matt Holthaus anchored Reebok Enclave in 3: 40.8 in the Olympic Development 6,000 relay, and made up 30 yards on Seneca Lassiter but couldn't overcome Arkansas Track Club. ... TCU set a men's collegiate record of 1: 19.67 in the 800 relay, faster than the 1: 19.92 run by Greene and company. ... Frederick High's Vikas Gowda won the boys discus with a toss of 183 feet, 2 inches.
Yesterday's local results
Boys 1,600 relay--Woodlawn, 3: 18.67; Oakland Mills, 3: 25.84; Randallstown, 3: 26.48; Annapolis, 3: 28.78; Wilde Lake, 3: 30.93; Hammond, 3: 31.07; Gilman, 3: 31.25; Mervo, 3: 33.85; Mount Hebron, 3: 34.08; Owings Mills, 3: 35.36; Long Reach, 3: 35.67; Dulaney, 3: 35.76; North County, 3: 42.64; Aberdeen, 3: 43.17; Mount St. Joe, 3: 45.84; Arundel, 3: 46.65; Southwestern, 3: 49.59; Carver, 3: 51.74.