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U.S. athletes travel overseas for events

16 February 2007

By Dave Ungrady

With no U.S. indoor meets scheduled this weekend, some American athletes are traveling far to find competition. No professional invitational meets are scheduled this weekend in the United States, allowing many American track and field athletes a weekend off to rest for the U.S indoor championships Feb. 24 and 25 in Boston following three consecutive weekends of competition.

Still, close to two dozen others are traveling abroad, and none farther than the five U.S. athletes headed to Australia to compete in the Telstra A-Series meet in Sydney, part of a four-meet outdoor pro series that started in January and runs through mid-March.

The athletes include Shawn Crawford, 200-meter champion at the 2004 Summer Olympics; Michelle Perry, 100-meter hurdles champion at the 2005 world championships; John Moffitt, long jump silver medalist at the 2004 Summer Olympics; LaShawn Merritt, 4 x 400-meter relay winner at the 2005 outdoor world championships; and Kristin Heaston, shot put winner at the 2005 U.S. outdoor championships.

Crawford has won three consecutive 60-meter races in the United States, including one at the Tyson meet last weekend. He will compete in the 100 meters in Sydney.

"I'm not here for a holiday, I'm here to run," Crawford said on athletics.com.au. "I would be really surprised if I break 10 seconds on Saturday night."

Merritt, the 2006 U.S. outdoor runner-up in the 400 meters, is the headliner in that event in Sydney.

"This is nothing major for me, but I'm going to compete in a nice meet and get some nice training in," Merritt said.

Merritt performed a major feat last weekend at the Tyson's Invitational in Arkansas. After winning the 400 meters in a 2007 world best 45.51, Merritt returned 90 minutes later to run the anchor leg for a U.S. team that was trying to set a world record in the 4 x 400-meter relay.

When he received the baton, Merritt found himself in a situation he had never experienced -- a position 15 meters behind the leader. He ran a blistering 44.62 split (the world indoor record is 44.57) and caught the lead runner, freshman LeJerald Betters of Baylor University, about 10 meters before the finish line.

"I felt relaxed," Merritt said of his anchor leg. "I didn't try to get out too hard. My plan was just to run and get close, creep up on the guy. I waited for him to drift back a little bit, when he did, I went by him. When I got the baton I knew we were off pace for the world record. I was just thinking let's get this victory."

The U.S. team won in 3:04.97, well off the world record of 3:02.83. Baylor finished in 3:05.14.

"He's a fast dude," Betters, a two-time high school All-American, said of Merritt. "I was running scared the whole race. When I got to the last 40 meters, and I was winning, my eyes were big. He's got the quietest feet in the world. But it was an honor being beat by him. I know he's a pro. He's not a normal athlete."

Another American who shined at the Tyson meet has completed her indoor campaign after just one race. Allyson Felix set an American record in the 300 meters by winning in 36.33, beating the previous record by .34 seconds. Felix, a student at UCLA and the 2005 outdoor world champion in the 200 meters, will not compete again until the outdoor season.

Merritt will run the 400 meters and Crawford the 200 meters at another Telstra-A Series meet on March 2 in Melbourne.

Merritt, who endured a bout of food poisoning earlier this week, is considering a return to the United States for the indoor championships, where he'll try to claim the $25,000 top prize awarded to the winner of the Visa Championship Series. Merritt sits in second place, 11 points behind American shot putter Christian Cantwell, who is among the U.S. athletes competing this weekend at the Norwich Union Grand Prix meet in Birmingham, England. To claim the $25,000, Merritt would have to finish faster than the world indoor best of 45.51 he ran at the Tyson meet.

U.S. middle distance runner Alan Webb had planned to make the Tyson meet his last stop of the 2007 indoor circuit. But Webb suffered a head cold late last week and pulled out of the 3,000-meter race in that meet. He said Thursday that he plans to compete in the mile at the U.S. indoor championships. He last competed at the Millrose Games on Feb. 2, when he ran a disappointing 4:04:86 in the Wannamaker mile.

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