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Athletics Notes: Olympians in Europe, D.C.

22 July 2008

By By Dave Ungrady

Olympic 400-meter champion Jeremy Wariner is one of dozens of top athletes who plan to compete in final Olympic tune-up races through July 29 in Europe. Wariner is entered in the 400 meters the DN Galan Stockholm Super Grand Prix meet on July 22, which will be his last race before the Beijing games.

Fellow American David Neville, a Beijing qualifier in the 400, will also run in the race. But Wariner's main rival, Olympic trials champion LaShawn Merritt, will be absent from Stockholm, and, for that matter, any other meet from now until Beijing.

Merritt, who has beaten Wariner twice this year and is ranked second in the world behind his U.S. teammate, has returned to the United States to focus on training. The 400 meters promises to be one of the more intriguing track and field competitions at the games. Few athletes -- one is Russian pole vaulter Yelena Isinbayeva -- have dominated their main event since the 2004 Athens Olympics as Wariner, who has lost only twice since September 2005, both times to Merritt.

Merritt has run twice since the Olympic trials, finishing second to Wariner in Golden League meets this month. Wariner won by .01 seconds in Rome on July 11 and .49 seconds in Paris on July 18.

Merritt, 22, began his temporary domestic stay by attending an Olympic send off at the White House in Washington, D.C., on Monday along with 21 other U.S. athletes bound for Beijing. In the morning, Merritt joined the 2008 Olympians in a Rose Garden ceremony hosted by President Bush and in the evening he attended a White House dinner for past and current Olympians.

After the morning ceremony, Merritt talked with a small group of reporters a few feet outside a northwest entrance to the White House and downplayed his rivalry with Wariner.

"He brings the best out of me and I bring the best out in him," Merritt said calmly. "We're going to settle it once we get [to Beijing]. It's who ever feels better that day. It's not easy to get in someone's head as some people may think because you train every day and don't compete [against each other] but a couple of times of year. Once you get in the race you've got to come in with the mindset that this is what I do and it's time to go to work."

Merritt added that he does not focus on Wariner during a race. "With eight people in the race, you can't doubt anyone," he said. "When I get in the race, it's all about running my own race. You're going to start feeling the race at about 300 meters. That's where the lactic acid comes in. You can't get any faster. At 300 meters you're just relaxing and trying to be the first person across the line. The key is to get 300 meters as smoothly as possible and get there in front and hold it."

The men's 400 meters preliminary heats at the Olympics begin August 18.

Nieto loses late challenge to Olympic selection: U.S. high jumper Jamie Nieto, who finished fourth at the 2004 Athens Olympics, lost an appeal disputing his exclusion from the Beijing Olympic team. Nieto finished in a tie for second at the recent Olympic trials but did not reach the Olympic "A" qualifying standard by the end of his trials competition on July 5 and was not picked for the team. Dusty Jonas, who finished sixth, was the next jumper to achieve the standard and qualified for the U.S. team.

Nieto reached the standard by clearing 2.30 meters on July 12. According to Paul Doyle, the agent for both Nieto and Jonas, Nieto filed the appeal on July 18 to the American Arbitration Association (AAA), claiming the USA Track and Field qualifying deadline was more stringent than the deadline set by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) of July 22 and violated an article in the U.S. Amateur Sports Act. The AAA announced its decision on July 19 after seven hours of deliberation.

"He was very disappointed, but he said he thought he did all he could," said Doyle. "I stayed out of it. They both had lawyers that handled their cases."

Barringer Beats Willard in rematch: On July 3, Anna Willard won the U.S. Olympic trials in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, setting an American record and beating third-place finisher Jenny Barringer by six seconds. On July 20, the two Beijing Olympic qualifiers staged another battle in the race at the KBC Night of Athletics meet in Heusden, Germany, but this time Barringer won and set an American record.

Barringer charged down the final straight to catch Willard at the tape and win in 9 minutes, 22.73 seconds. Willard finished second in a personal best 9:22.76. The women's 3,000-meter steeplechase will make its Olympic debut at the Beijing games.

Greek sprinter Thanou faces deadline for Beijing participation: The Hellenic Olympic Committee (HOC) and IAAF have said Greek sprinter Katerina Thanou must decide by July 23, the deadline for the final Beijing Olympic athletics list, whether she will compete in the games.

Thanou, who served a two-year ban for missing drug tests, including one on the eve of the Athens 2004 Olympics with fellow sprinter Costas Kenteris, has not yet announced her decision. The HOC said Tuesday that Thanous is on the official Greek team roster for the games.

Kenteris and Thanou, who won a 100-meter silver medal at the Sydney games in 2000, were subsequently banned for anti-doping rule violations after a lengthy international legal battle. They have raced rarely since the end of their suspensions in December 2006.

Thanou, 33, has met the qualifying standard for the Olympics.

Injury forces Deakes out of the Olympics: Australian world champion walker Nathan Deakes has pulled out of next month's Beijing Olympics because of a hamstring injury. The 30-year-old has been troubled by hamstring problems for the past four years and aggravated the injury while training in Switzerland last week.

"I'm still in a bit of shock," Deakes said in a statement. "I have to have surgery to fix it as the hamstring tendon has come away from the bone at the pelvis. It will mean a six-to-nine-month recovery process."

Deakes won a bronze medal in the 20-kilometer walk at the 2004 Athens Olympics and was among the favorites to win gold in the men's 50-kilometer walk at Beijing after winning last year's world title in Osaka.

Olympians headline NYC half marathon: The third NYC Half Marathon presented by Nike on July 27 will serve as a final tune-up for 2008 Olympic marathoners Catherine Ndereba of Kenya, Benita Johnson of Australia, Hendrick Ramaala of South Africa and Madai Perez of Mexico, race organizers announced last week.

The men's race will also feature 2007 world half-marathon silver medalist Patrick Makau and his Kenyan countryman Felix Limo, the winner of marathons in Berlin (2004), Chicago (2005) and London (2006); and Adam Goucher, a 2000 Olympian in the 5,000 meters.

The women's race will also include Yuri Kano of Japan, who finished fourth in last year's NYC Half Marathon and won the Sapporo Half Marathon.

Previously announced for the third-annual 13.1-mile race were U.S. marathon qualifier Dathan Ritzenhein of the United States, USA Half Marathon champion James Carney, U.S. Olympic trials fourth-place finisher Zoila G?mez, and four-time Olympian Colleen De Reuck.

Sharing title supercedes individual glory in 100-mile race: After close to 19 hours of racing, Mike Wolfe and Eric Skaden decided to share victory at the USA 100-mile Trail Championships in Lake Tahoe, Nev., last weekend. The pair crossed the finish line together in 18:59:10 and split the $1,000 first prize. Nikki Kimball won the women's race in 20:18:12 ahead of second place Beverly Anderson Abbs, who finished in 23:28:10.

Americans dominate NACAC under-23 meet: The United States won 62 medals, the most of any other country, and set 12 championship records at the 2008 NACAC Under-23 Track & Field Championships, July 18-19 in Toluca, Mexico. The medal count includes 28 golds.

Andre Black led the U.S. men by winning the triple jump and finished second in the long jump, and J-Mee Samuels set a meet record (10.09) in the 100 meters. Sara Stevens was a double-winner for the U.S. women, taking titles in the shot put and the hammer throw.

The NACAC U23 Championships are held every two years in one of the 32 member-nations of the North America, Central America and Caribbean Athletic Association, one of six regional athletics associations affiliated with the IAAF.

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