Joyner-Kersee a few leaps behind in quest for Sydney


SACRAMENTO, Calif.-Will there be one more Olympic Games for the grand dame of American track and field?

Jackie Joyner-Kersee turned back the clock last night, competed for the first time in two years and advanced to the final of the women's long jump at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials. Should she finish among the top three in tomorrow's final, she will go to the Olympics for a fifth time.

Was Joyner-Kersee rusty?

"The door is always squeaking," she said. "I've had to get the WD-40 out a lot."

Joyner-Kersee, 38, competed at the U.S. trials for the sixth time. She made her first Olympic team in 1984, and won gold medals in the long jump and heptathlon in 1988, and the heptathlon again in '92. She was the bronze medalist in the long jump in '96, and still holds the American record of 24 feet, 7 inches.

Willye White, another long jumper, became the first woman to compete in five Olympics in 1972. With Marion Jones and a mediocre American field in the event this year, Joyner-Kersee ended a brief two-year retirement, to the delight of a record crowd of 23,211 at Cal State University's Hornet Stadium.

Joyner-Kersee reached 21 feet, 3/4 inch on her third and final attempt in the qualifying round. Dawn Burrell had the best qualifying mark at 21-8, and five other women went farther than Joyner-Kersee. She needs to find another foot of distance to earn a trip to Sydney, Australia for the 2000 Games.

Joyner-Kersee placed sixth in farewell meet in 1998, and only considered a comeback two months ago.

"I was trying to figure out what I was doing [last night]," said Joyner-Kersee, who couldn't resist a dig at her husband and coach, Bob Kersee. "Bobby said I wasn't attacking the board. I told him, 'What did you expect?' I was worried."

On the track, Maurice Greene spoke volumes with a clocking of 9.93 seconds, Dennis Mitchell made his statement with a fluorescent green wardrobe, and Bernard Williams very quietly advanced along with them into the semifinals of the 100-meter dash.

Williams, a graduate of Baltimore's Carver High, won the NCAA championship for Florida last month, when he became only the second American-born collegian to run under 10 seconds. He'll need a similarly strong performance to earn a spot in today's final.

Greene, the world record-holder, led last night's qualifying on opening day of the U.S. trials. Williams was second in his heat in 10.17 seconds, and easily qualified for today's semifinals. He'll have to go much faster if he wants to be a factor in tonight's final.

"That felt smooth, I just wanted to get my feet wet," Williams said. "I just wanted to chill, basically. When I knew I had second place locked up, I relaxed. I'm just trying to stay focused, and not do too much thinking. The idea tonight was to relax and get out of here."

Mitchell is the flamboyant veteran who held the school record at Florida until Williams came along after two years at a junior college in Kansas. Williams, 22, raced for the first time in Europe recently, and had the ninth-fastest time in a 39-man field last night. He'll be two lanes over from Greene in the semifinals.

Greene, who lowered the world record to 9.79 last year, had suffered some ignominious defeats in Europe recently.

"A lot of people thought I was not ready to run, but I am," Greene said. "Fast times don't surprise me .... I can run under 10 seconds anytime I want."

Unlike Williams, another former Florida star wasn't as successful in the women's 100 qualifying, as Kisha Jett, who attended Columbia's Hammond High, was last in her heat, in 11.57 seconds. As expected, Jones was the fastest woman in four heats, as she dipped to 10.92. Gail Devers, at 10.99, was the only other woman to run under 11 seconds.

Matt Holthaus, who still makes his home in Columbia, was exhausted but delighted that he won't have to return there for a few more days. Holthaus finished sixth in his semifinal of the 1,500 and was one of the last men into tomorrow's 12-man final. His time was 3:40.81, more than two seconds off of Jason Pyrah's 3:38.19, the fastest of the night.

"That was too close for comfort, Holthaus said. "I faded with 200 meters to go, and my arms felt real heavy. I kept focusing on the finish line, because I knew that every second counts. I'm relieved big-time. I'm going to go back to my hotel and try to recover.

"It's been a rocky road this season. I haven't been able to put together a string of fast races. But I'm in the final, and who knows what will happen there." Holthaus, who ran for Wilde Lake High and James Madison University, was 12th at the 1996 trials.

The women's 1,500 got a boost when Marla Runyan, who is legally blind, showed no effects of a recent injury and moved into tomorrow's final along with favorite Regina Jacobs and Suzy Favor-Hamilton. Those three would make for a strong U.S. entry at the 2000 Games.

On a moonlit night, Mebrahton Kefiezighi, Alan Culpepper and Abdihakim Abdirahman became the first to qualify for the Olympics here, as they went 1-2-3 in a superb 10,000.

NOTES: The University of Maryland's Vanessa Jones was among the 13 women who advanced to tomorrow's high jump final .... Adam Nelson led the qualifying in a stellar shot put field with a toss of 68-3 3/4. ...Monique Henderson, who still has a year left at her San Diego high school, advanced to the semifinals in the women's 400 .... Eugene, Oregon was announced as the site of the 2001 national championships.

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