BOSTON - She's 37 now, ancient by big-time track and field standards. But no one's daring to suggest that three-time Olympic gold medalist Gail Devers is slowing down. Far from it.
Thirty-four years after Chi Cheng of Taiwan won women's sprint and hurdles titles at the USA Indoor Track and Field Championships, Devers duplicated the feat yesterday at the Reggie Lewis Center.
After breezing through her trial heat of the 60-meter hurdles in 7.97 seconds and her 60-meter dash prelim in 7.11, the Duluth, Ga.-based Devers came back just under two hours later to take both finals, the hurdles in 7.81 over Joanna Hayes' 7.91, and the dash in 7.12, just three-thousandths of a second in front of Torri Edwards in a virtual dead heat.
"I just listen to my body, and my body said I can do this," said Devers. "I'm just thankful for today and I'll run both events at the world indoor championships [March 12-14 in Budapest, Hungary]."
"After that, who knows? I don't even know when the Olympic trials will be, or if I'll be there."
It was a big day for Maryland athletes, too. Tiombe Hurd of Upper Marlboro won the women's triple jump, Jesse O'Connell of Westminster was third in the men's 800, and Olympian James Carter of Baltimore cruised into today's final in the men's 400.
The top two in most events - if they meet tough qualifying standards - are eligible to represent the nation at the world indoor meet.
Hurd, the 2000 and 2001 national indoor champion, regained the women's triple jump crown she relinquished to Vanitta Kinard the previous two years with a last-jump performance of 45 feet, 5 inches. She rallied from third place to first, then sweated it out as the others completed their jumps.
"It wasn't pretty, but it was good enough," said Hurd, a former James Madison University star. "In the triple jump, with its three stages, there are three ways you can improve and three ways you can mess up. There's a lot I've got to work on, but this is the year to do it. I definitely want to be in Athens.
"I just hope I get to Budapest, too. They're asking for a 14-meter [45-11] qualifying distance, but maybe they'll invite some more to get a full field. I sure hope that happens."
Kinard wound up fourth at 44-7 1/2 . Carter, a fourth-place finisher in the 400 hurdles final at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, went out fast, then held off Jabari Pride of Wisconsin to take his 400 prelim in 47.12.
"I really don't like indoors, but running this winter's good for me because I missed most of last outdoor season [with injuries]," said Carter, the Mervo grad who now lives and trains in Hampton, Va. "I think I can have a big year."
O'Connell, a Georgetown University senior sociology and journalism major, came up with a big lift off the final turn and claimed third in the 800 in 1:49.19. It was a race won by Stanford grad Michael Stember (1:48.08) over Missouri alumnus Derrick Peterson (1:48.67).
"I've been off the last three weeks [with a right knee injury] and hadn't run the 800 since last July, so I guess this is all right," said O'Connell, who had focused on the 1,000 meters earlier this winter. This was O'Connell's first national senior medal.
"I love this sport," he said. "I'm going to stay in track as long as I can, as long as I'm competitive - 10 or 15 years, whatever it takes."
Tim Seaman of North Babylon, N.Y., won the men's 5,000-meter racewalk for a seventh straight year, clocking 19:30.59 in a performance dedicated to the memory of his late training partner, Al Heppner.
Heppner, of Columbia, Md., took his own life Feb. 18 in California, three days after placing fifth in the Olympic trial 50-kilometer race. Like many of the athletes at the nationals - racewalkers as well as those in other events - Seaman wore a black ribbon in Heppner's memory.
"Al was supposed to be here with me in this race," said Seaman. "He always kept telling me he wanted to see me cross the finish line raising seven fingers. Al knew everyone in this sport, and everyone loved Al. He was like my little brother. This one was for Al."