Quick start gets Carter en route to Budapest

BOSTON - Mervo graduate James Carter is headed to the World Indoor Track and Field Championships this weekend in Budapest, Hungary.

Carter, 25, clinched his ticket to Hungary with a second-place performance in the men's 400-meter final at the USA Indoor Championships yesterday at the Reggie Lewis Center.

He won his race, clocking 46.80 seconds in his section of the two-division event but wound up second overall when Milton Campbell of Atlanta took the second section in 46.43.

"I did what I had to; I got out fast, was ahead by the first pole [reaching 200 meters in 22.19], then just kept my form, stayed strong, and brought it on in," said Carter, who finished fourth in the 400-meter hurdles at the 2000 Olympics.

"This was only the second 400 I've run this indoor season; I've never run indoors too much in the past, actually. So, all this is a plus, and it should pay off outdoors [when Carter shoots for his second Olympic team]."

Though he qualified for the individual 400 in Budapest, he plans only to run the 1,600 relay at worlds, opening a spot for third-place finisher Joe Mendel, a former University of Connecticut star.

Shot-put stars Christian Cantwell and Laura Gerraughty took some of the nationals spotlight away from the runners, jumpers and vaulters.

Cantwell, 22, a University of Missouri graduate who has the longest shot put in the world this year (72 feet, 1/4 inch) rallied to win his specialty with a final-round toss of 69-9.

"I was in bed [with the flu] from Monday to Thursday, then got out of bed to come here," Cantwell said.

"Sometimes you get off a good throw; sometimes you don't. I had a little bit of adrenaline going, and finally got it."

Gerraughty, 20, a University of North Carolina student from Nashua, N.H., returned to her New England roots and delivered a resounding victory in the women's shot put.

Her winning throw of 62-9 1/2 was the best ever indoors by a collegian and the fifth-best ever by an American. It easily topped the Olympic "A" standard needed for the games in Athens, Greece, in August.

Smiling at her coaches, family members and friends seated nearby after each throw, Gerraughty got off her winning throw in the second round.

"I felt terrible on that one, too," she said. "I almost fell out of the ring. But then I looked up and saw that, hey, that's pretty far."

Though she has junior eligibility outdoors, and sophomore eligibility indoors, she's a senior academically, headed to advanced degrees in biology and exercise physiology.

Stacy Dragila, 32, the women's Olympic pole vault champion who set the American record of 15-8 1/4 in winning the 2003 nationals, wasn't ready for those heights this time because she was breaking in new poles. She still won easily at 15-5.

"I did good, I won, and that's always the main thing," she said, smiling. "This was really like a glorified practice for me."

Second-place finisher Jillian Schwartz was nearly a foot behind.

In the meet's final event, Jen Toomey of Salem, Mass., took the women's 1,500 in 4:09.82, a day after she won the 800 in 2:00.02.

Stanford graduate Jonathon Riley of Brookline, Mass., was another local titlist, taking the men's 3,000 meters in 7:57.69, as ex-schoolboy sensation Alan Webb of Reston, Va., wound up fifth in the tactically run race.

Savante Stringfellow, the Olympic long jumper and former Mississippi star, led the men's long jump at 27-1 1/4 , and Eastern Michigan alumnus Jamie Nieto took the high jump at 7-6 1/2.