A U.S. women's sprinting corps missing some of its biggest names got off to a strong start Friday on the first day of Olympic track competition, with
three Americans -- including 37-year-old Gail Devers -- advancing from their preliminary heats in the 100 meters.
LaTasha Colander, as well as U.S. teammates Gail Devers and Lauryn Williams, easily advanced from their 100 heats.
Lauryn Williams, the 20-year-old NCAA champion from Miami, was fastest in her heat in 11.16 seconds. U.S. champion LaTasha Colander slowed at the end
but still won her heat in 11.31. And Devers, who won this event at the 1992 and 1996 games, advanced by placing third in her heat in 11.29.
"I feel good. I was just nervous. I shouldn't have watched the race right before mine,'' Williams said. "Those were fast times. Oh, my goodness! It's
very fast and they're only running the first rounds.''
Gold-medal favorite Christine Arron of France eased to second place in her heat in 11.14, while Bulgaria's Ivet Lalova -- fastest in the world this
year at 10.77 -- won her heat in 11.16. The best time of the first round was 10.94 by Yuliya Nesterenko of Belarus.
U.S. Olympic trials triple jump champion Melvin Lister failed to make the finals in the event. Lister, who had the world-leading mark of 58, 4 inches
(7.78 meters) entering the competition, was 18th in the preliminary round at 54-7 1.4 (16.64). The top 12 advance.
U.S. men's coach George Williams said Thursday that Lister had been hit hard by the news that his training partner, Robert Howard, had died in a
murder-suicide. Police said Howard killed his wife then jumped to his death from a medical school dormitory in Little Rock, Ark., last Saturday.
Lister's U.S. teammates, Kenta Bell and Walter Davis, made it to Sunday night's finals. They finished 10th and 11th, respectively.
Women from war-torn Aghanistan and Iraq competed in the 100. Robina Muqimyar of Afghanistan, dressed in long running pants but wearing no head scarf,
was seventh in her heat at 14.14 seconds, beating Fartun Omar Abukar of Somalia. Alaa Jassim of Iraq was last in her heat at 12.70 seconds.
Omid Marban, a 20-year-old man who apears on a television show in Kabul called "Good Morning Afghanistan,'' said Muqimyar's performance would not be a
popular one in that country.
"The majority of people in Afghanistan do not like Afghan women to run outside with some 20,000 people watching her,'' he said. "But she was wearing
long trousers. That means she did respect her people, even though she did not have a scarf. For me, that's OK, but there are some people who do not
Also advancing to the second round were Veronica Campbell and Aleen Bailey of Jamaica, Ukraine's Zhanna Block and 44-year-old Merlene Ottey, who is
running in her seventh Olympics. The Jamaican native, now running for Slovenia, has eight Olympic medals.
Missing were defending champion Marion Jones, world champion Torri Edwards, Kelli White and Chryste Gaines. Edwards and White are serving drug
suspensions. Jones and Gaines did not qualify. Jones is under investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and Gaines has been charged by USADA with
steroid use. Both claim they never used performance-enhancing substances.
After the morning's two events in the heptathlon, reigning world champion Carolina Kluft of Sweden led with 2,212 points. Karin Ruckstuhl of the
Netherlands and Kelly Sotherton of Britain were tied for second at 2,100.
Competition began under a blazing sun Friday morning with the men's 20-kilometer walk.
Ivano Brugnetti of Italy won in a personal-best 1 hour, 19 minutes, 39 seconds, finishing five seconds ahead of Francisco Fernandez of Spain. Nathan
Deakes of Australia took the bronze. Favorite Jefferson Perez of Ecuador -- the event's world record holder, 2003 world champion and 1996 Olympic gold
medalist -- was fourth.
Friday's night session was to feature 22-year-old Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele in the 10,000 meters. Next week, he'll go in the 5,000, attempting to
complete a distance-running double that even his famous countryman Haile Gebrselassie never accomplished.
The quest is a reasonable one, since Bekele broke Gebrselassie's world records in both events in a nine-day span this spring.
Gebrselassie will run in the 10,000, too, seeking a third consecutive Olympic title in the event despite an Achilles' tendon injury.
"I was very close to pulling out,'' said Gebrselassie, who is attempting to become the first athlete to win the same running event at three Olympics.
"Even if I am not doing very well, I feel I need to be there. I will try to do my best. Top three would be really great.''
And 21-year-old Alan Webb was to race in the 1,500 meters qualifying. Webb is the best U.S. runner in the event in years, but still is an underdog
against the experience and talent of runners from Africa and Europe.
Several top athletes will miss the track competition because of doping problems.
Greece's Kostas Kenteris was the 200 champion at Sydney. He and training partner Katerina Thanou, who took silver in the 100 in Sydney, withdrew this
week amid missed drug tests and a suspicious motorcycle accident.
Edwards was kicked out of the Olympics and suspended for two years for taking a banned stimulant. She is the world champion and is ranked No. 1 this
year in the 100, and would have been a medal contender in the 200 as well.
Williams said all the doping cases leave fans wondering if anyone in the sport is drug-free
"I think the faster you run, the less they're going to think you're a clean athlete,'' she said. "I don't think it's fair.'
One of the best competitions should come in the women's pole vault, in which American Stacy Dragila and Russians Svetlana Feofanova and Yelena
Isinbayeva have been taking turns breaking the world record over the last couple of years.
"When I get in that stadium against the two of them, the tiger is going to come out,'' Dragila said. "I would love to be on that top step of the
podium. I go to bed visualizing that's where I'm going to be.''
Pole vault qualifying is on Saturday, with the finals on Tuesday.