ATHENS - There has been a lot of sleepless nights lately in the U.S. track and field world.
"Woke up every hour on the hour," sprinter Lauryn Williams said.
But it isn't the scandal, it isn't the doping allegations that are stealing sleep. Athletes such as Williams can finally just run, battling only pre-race jitters and not worrying about what controversy is chasing them.
Tonight, track steps into the spotlight at the Summer Games, as three Americans will be competing for gold in the women's 100-meter dash at Olympic Stadium.
Williams easily won her qualifying heat last night, and she'll be joined by U.S. teammates LaTasha Colander and Gail Devers in the semifinals.
Devers barely advanced. She finished fourth in her heat - running in 11.31 seconds - and didn't qualify until all of the second-round heats had finished. The top three runners in each heat qualified along with the four remaining runners with the best times.
Devers, the 37-year-old who took gold in the 100 at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics, took the last slot in the field.
She was originally scheduled to run only the 100 hurdles in Athens. On Tuesday, though, she was given a slot in the sprint, replacing Torri Edwards, whose two-year suspension was upheld by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Williams was the most impressive of the U.S. sprinters yesterday. She rocketed off the starting blocks in her second-round heat and was never challenged, finishing in 11.03.
"I think if I can have a start like that again, God only knows the limit," she said.
Williams' wasn't the day's best time, though. That mark came from Bulgaria's Yuliya Nesterenko, who won her heat in 10.99.
Yesterday was mostly reserved for qualifying races. The only real surprise among U.S. athletes was in the men's 1,500, where Alan Webb, 21, failed to qualify for the final.
Webb has been the United States' biggest hope in middle-distance running since Steve Prefontaine was killed in a car accident in 1975. No American has won a gold in the 1,500 since 1908, and none has brought home a medal since 1968, when Jim Ryun won silver.
Four years ago, Webb became the first American high school athlete to run an indoor mile in less than four minutes. And just a few months later, he broke Ryun's 36-year-old high school mile record, running in 3:53.43.
Yesterday, though, he struggled from the start, and in the final lap, dropped from fourth to ninth. Twenty-four runners advanced, and Webb finished No. 25 with his time of 3:41.25.
Webb said he was spiked on the first lap. But that was just the start of his problems.
"You always expect to get a little bumped," said Webb, who spent most of the race running in a tight cluster. "But it seemed like every 50 meters something was happening."
After the race, blood slowly streamed down his right calf. He said the race was very different from the U.S. trials, calling it "very, very aggressive."
Yesterday's action was highlighted by the men's 10,000 final, where Ethiopia officially crowned a new long-distance running king. Haile Gebrselassie, who won gold in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics and was unbeaten in the 10,000 from 1993 to 2001, finished in fifth place.
Countryman Kenenisa Bekele, who two months ago broke Gebrselassie's world record, won his first Olympic gold, finishing in 27:05. The time was an Olympic record, breaking Gebrselassie's 1996 mark by two seconds.
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