It was only the second round of the 100 meters, yet the world's top sprinters already were playing a lightning-quick game of "Can You Top This?''
Five men broke 10 seconds Saturday, with Shawn Crawford's time of 9.89 the best of the round. And several top competitors slowed before the end, which
means there could be some incredibly fast times in the semifinals and final Sunday night.
Also on Saturday, two former female gold medalists failed to reach their respective finals, as two-time winner Gail Devers was eliminated in the
100-meter semifinals and Stacy Dragila failed to make it out of pole vault qualifying.
Yuliya Nesterenko ended two decades of American dominance in the 100 meters Saturday, using a powerful closing surge to edge a 20-year-old who is the
future of U.S. sprinting.
Nesterenko, a Belarusian who had never broken 11 seconds before the Olympics but did it in all four rounds here, won gold in 10.93 seconds. Lauryn
Williams, the NCAA champion from the University of Miami, was second in a personal-best 10.96. LaTasha Colander finished last.
Along with Devers, 100-meter gold-medal favorite Christine Arron of France also failed to reach the final. She got off to a terrible start, appearing
to stumble in the opening meters. She quickly found herself behind the field and finished sixth in 11.21. Devers was seventh in 11.22.
Dragila, who won the vault when it debuted as a women's event at the 2000 Olympics, missed three attempts at 14 feet, 5 1/4 inches (4.40 meters), well
below her best of 15 feet, 10 inches (4.83). After her third miss, she shook her head in dismay and seemed to be stunned. Then she slowly packed up
her gear, put on a cap and headed off the fiel
"This is something I should be able to do in my sleep,'' she said later, between sobs.
In the men's 100 heats, Francis Obikwelu of Portugal started the fun by winning his heat in 9.93 despite easing up 20 meters before the end. Then
Crawford, wearing one black shoe and one white shoe, won his heat and celebrated by pretending to spike a football on the track.
Crawford's U.S. teammate, Justin Gatlin, was next with a 9.96 to win his heat. And then defending champion Maurice Greene won his heat in 9.93 -- with
Jamaica's Asafa Powell right behind in 9.99. Powell ran easily the whole way, turning to look lazily at Greene midway through the race.
"It feels like running on air out there,'' Gatlin said.
Carolina Kluft of Sweden won the heptathlon with a score of 6,952. Austra Skujyte of Lithuania won silver and Kelly Sotherton of Britain took the
bronze. In the discus, Natalya Sadova of Russia won gold with a toss of 219 feet, 10 inches (67.02), Anastasia Kelesidou of Greece thrilled the huge
crowd by winning silver and Irina Yatchenko of Belarus took the bronze.
Thirteen days after undergoing knee surgery, world champion Jana Pittman made a remarkable comeback Saturday morning by winning her preliminary heat
of the women's 400-meter hurdles.
The Australian, who tore cartilage in her right knee while warming up for a race and quickly had arthroscopic surgery in hopes of running in Athens,
won her heat in 54.83 seconds. The best time of the first round was 53.57 by Yuliya Pechonkina of Russia.
"I was really nervous. I did not know if my knee was going to hold up,'' Pittman said. "I thought I loved this sport, but you don't know how much you
love something until you have it taken away.
Also advancing to Sunday's semifinals were all three Americans -- Sheena Johnson, Lashinda Demus and Brenda Taylor. They placed second in their heats,
automatically qualifying for the next round.
In the women's 400 first round, gold-medal contender Ana Guevara of Mexico coasted so much in the final meters that she had to momentarily speed back
up when she saw competitors catching up. She won in 50.93.
Guevara, the reigning world champion, was joined in the semifinals by Americans Monique Hennagan, DeeDee Trotter and Sanya Richards, whose time of
50.11 was the fastest of the qualifying round.
All three U.S. men advanced to Monday's final of the 400. Jeremy Wariner (44.87) had the fastest qualifying time and Derrick Brew (45.05) won his
semifinal heat. Otis Harris slowed at the end and finished second in his heat in 44.99.