The newcomers collected more than experience in their first Olympics. They will take home some impressive hardware, as well.
"We're just trying to bring a new wave here and get people thinking positive things about track and field," said 18-year-old Allyson Felix, youngest
of them all and silver medalist at 200 meters. "We're just so eager. We have the passion. All this is so new to us. We're just taking it all in."
Allyson Felix set a world junior record and claimed the silver medal in the 200. (Anja Niedringhaus / AP)
Of the 21 individual track medals won by Americans in Athens, 13 went to athletes age 26 or younger. New faces also had starring roles on the
gold-medal 1,600-meter relay teams Saturday.
"I am very proud to be representing the youth of America," said Dee Dee Trotter, 21, who ran the first leg of the victorious women's relay team. "We
have not only dominated here, but we've dominated to the point where we won lots of medals. Our youth brought home so many achievements."
Not so for stars of Olympics past. Marion Jones, Gail Devers, Allen Johnson and Stacy Dragila went home empty-handed.
Maurice Greene, 30, managed only a bronze in the 100 meters, an event he once dominated with chest-thumping bravado. The gold went to 22-year-old
Justin Gatlin - the friendly, handsome sprinter who also won the 200 bronze.
Gatlin was not the only fresh personality who threw a coming-out party in Athens. Lauryn Williams, just 20 years old and generously listed at 5 feet,
3 inches tall, burst onto the international scene with a silver medal in the 100 meters.
"Size has never been an issue for me," the NCAA champion from the University of Miami said, "because I've got a big personality."
A week later, in the 400-meter relay, Williams found out how quickly Olympic emotions can turn. She started running too early on her third leg,
failing to get the handoff from Jones in the exchange zone, and the heavily favored U.S. team did not finish.
The forlorn little sprinter walking slowly out of the stadium with Jones' arm around her is one of the enduring images of the games.
Jones, of course, had an awful Friday night, finishing fifth in the long jump an hour before the relay debacle. At 28, she left the Olympics with an
uncertain future clouded by an ongoing investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
Like the women's 400-meter relay team, Devers and Johnson never finished their races.
The 37-year-old Devers, in her fifth Olympics, couldn't clear the first barrier in the opening round of the 100-meter hurdles because of a hamstring
injury. She left what almost certainly will be her last Olympics never winning a medal in her signature event.
At least Johnson, 33, has the Olympic gold from 1996. After a fourth-place finish in Sydney four years ago, he came to Athens as one of the favorites,
but crashed into the next-to-last hurdle and belly flopped to the track. Johnson, elected captain of the U.S. squad by his teammates, said it was only
the second fall of his career.
Dragila, 33, also was bothered by an injury and didn't qualify for the finals in the women's pole vault - an event she had pioneered.
So it was largely left to the young to provide uplifting moments, culminating with American gold medal runs in the women's and men's 1,600 meters -
the last two Olympic events on the track.
The women's race featured Trotter and Monique Henderson, also 21, and 19-year-old Sanya Richards. In the men's 1,600, 20-year-old Jeremy Wariner ran
the third leg, handing off to his Baylor teammate, 21-year-old Darold Williamson, for the anchor.
A rising star took the stage in the most demanding of all the events, the decathlon, when 24-year-old Bryan Clay won the silver medal.
While America's better-known decathlete, 2003 world champion Tom Pappas, withdrew after six events with a foot injury, Clay compiled 8,820 points -
the third-best score ever by a U.S. athlete. Only Dan O'Brien scored more.
Yet no American was more impressive than Wariner, a Baylor junior-to-be who led a 1-2-3 U.S. sweep in the 400 meters. Wearing sunglasses and sparkling
earrings, he was calm and cool in his first major international competition. Few would guess that he was a kid out of Grand Prairie, Texas, who had
never before crossed the Atlantic.
Wariner's coach, Clyde Hart of Baylor, also mentored Michael Johnson. Hart believes Wariner is just beginning. By the time of the Beijing Olympics in
2008, Hart expects Wariner to be a world-class 200-meter runner, as well as the defending 400 champion.
The departing generation of track stars leave a mixed legacy. Some who never made it to Athens face drug suspensions. Others simply find themselves
losing the inevitable battle against age.
"The young guys, the young women, we're all taking over," Gatlin said. "Watch out."