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Jersey's Barber headlines star-studded Ostrava meet

30 May 2006

Me'Lisa Barber glances at the scoreboard after finishing second in the women's 100 meters in 10.99 in the adidas Track Classic at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. on Sunday, May 21, 2006. (Image of Sport) Me'Lisa Barber glances at the scoreboard after finishing second in the women's 100 meters in 10.99 in the adidas Track Classic at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. on Sunday, May 21, 2006. (Image of Sport)

By Elliott Denman

Four-plus decades after Yogi Berra hung up his baseball spikes, Montclair, New Jersey claims home to another world-class athlete.

This time, the sport is track and field, not baseball. This time, it's not a he but a she.

She is Me'Lisa Barber, 25, the 1998 graduate of Montclair High School and 2002 University of South Carolina alumna, who is intent on proving herself the fastest woman on earth.

Injuries slowed her progress in 2005 after she won the gold medal in the 100m at the U.S.A. Outdoor Championships in Carson, Calif., (clocked in 11.10 seconds) and placed fourth in the 200m (22.37).

So, instead of running off with the gold in the 100m at the World Championships in Helsinki last August, as many had predicted two months earlier, she settled for fifth place in a race won by American teammate Lauryn Williams in 10.93. But she did come home with a gold in the 4x100m relay, teaming with Angela Daigle-Bowen, Muna Lee and Williams.

The new year has been a different story. Barber was a dominating force on the 2006 indoor track circuit, sprinting off with 60m gold medals in the Boston Indoor Games, U.S.A. Indoor Nationals and the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Moscow.

Now, it's Barber's turn to show her speed outdoors.

She opens her European campaign on Tuesday in the 100m at the 45th annual Golden Spike Meet in Ostrava, Czech Republic. Two weeks ago, Barber ran to a solid 11.06 in 100m at the adidas Track Classic in Carson, so she's obviously ready.

Debbie Ferguson of the Bahamas and U.S.A.'s Stephanie Durst head the list of competitors Barber will face in Ostrava.

"I once met Mr. Berra and he's a very nice man," Barber said last winter. "But I'm not really sure if he remembers me."

But she does know this -- a few more major triumphs on the international circuit will be a big help in refreshing his memory.

Barber also knows that staying ahead of her twin sister in future competitions will be no easy chore, either. Twins Mikele (Miki) and Me'Lisa Barber posed double trouble for all opponents in their days at Montclair High and South Carolina, but Miki's successes in recent years have been sporadic. Then again, she's been taking some major strides of her own and placed fourth in the U.S.A. Indoor Nationals 60m final.

The Ostrava organizers have assembled a glittering cast for this early-season meet. At last count, at least 30 medalists from the 2004 Athens Olympic Games and the 2005 Helsinki World Championships were expected to compete.

The Ostrava spotlight will shine brightly on local hero Jan Zelezny, generally ranked as the greatest javelin thrower in his sport's history and one of the greatest in any athletics event.

After taking the javelin silver medal at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, Zelezny reeled off a streak of golds at Barcelona in 1992, Atlanta in 1996, and Sydney in 2000. Another gold -- at Athens in 2004 -- would have made him his sport's most celebrated Olympian -- topping the four-Games streaks of Al Oerter in the discus throw and Carl Lewis in the long jump, but it just wasn't to be. Zelezny finished ninth.

He'd always found ways to rise to the biggest of occasions -- and time his comebacks from a series of injuries and surgeries impeccably -- but for Athens, it didn't happen.

Now, at 39, Zelezny has announced that this will be his final year on the global-athletics circuit. Since Ostrava is the biggest occasion on the Czech Republic's athletics calendar, Zelezny would like nothing better than to launch one long and far for his home fans.

In fact, he's already promised them rounds of beer if he can come up with a victory.

Two-time Olympic bronze medalist Sergey Makarov of Russia and newly crowned Commonwealth Games champion Nick Nieland of Great Britain head the list of competitors for Zelezny.

Other featured Ostrava entries include:

Women's Olympic high jump champion Yelena Slesaranko of Russia; Poland's pole vault stars, Anna Rogowska and Monika Pyrek; U.S.A. 400m hurdlers Lashinda Demus, Sheena Johnson and Sandra Glover, and Jamaica's 100m hurdler Delloreen Ennis-London.

On the men's side, other top names include U.S.A.'s Terrence Trammell and Jamaica's Maurice Wignall in the 110m high hurdles; Olympic steeplechase champion Ezekiel Kemboi of Kenya; U.S.A.'s Bershawn Jackson, the World champion, in the 400m hurdles, and Tariku Bekele of Ethiopia in the 3,000m, a race that honors the memory of Emil Zatopek, whose historic distance triple (5,000m, 10,000m and marathon) in the 1952 Helsinki Games seems destined never to be duplicated.

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