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Collegian enters trials on top of the world

24 June 2008

By Dave Ungrady

Of the nine American track and field athletes sitting atop the world rankings of their respective events entering the Olympic trials that begin this weekend, all but one brings credentials of global conquest.

They include world record holder, Olympic champion and world champion Jeremy Wariner in the 400 meters; 400-meter hurdle world champion Kerron Clement; world champion Brad Walker in the pole vault; world indoor shot put champion Adam Nelson; and 200-meter world champion Allyson Felix in the 400 meters.

The lone athlete who does not claim a world medal or national records stands out for his relative anonymity and lack of international experience.

Dusty Jonas, who completed his collegiate eligibility for the University of Nebraska earlier this month and is working up to 30 hours a week as an intern in a greenhouse, has been the top ranked high jumper in the world since clearing 2.36 meters (7-8 3/4) at the Big 12 Conference Championships on May 18. Jonas, 22, has competed outside the United States only twice but not since 2006.

Jonas won his first collegiate title earlier this year at the NCAA indoor championships with a personal best 2.31 meters. He finished second at the NCAA outdoor meet on June 13 and has improved by three inches since 2007.

"I didn't expect to do as well as I have," he said Monday by phone. "But my coach thought it was going to be a good year. It was a bit of a surprise for me."

Jonas credits his improvement in part to increased strength conditioning since the 2007 season. "I've also tweaked some things in my approach, where I need to be at takeoff," he said. "I'm getting off the ground a little faster and not trying as hard at the end. I'm loading up and slowing everything down."

Jonas failed to clear a height in his second appearance at the U.S. outdoor championships in 2007 (he finished seventh in 2006), but he feels confident entering the trials. "I've had good practices and have as good a shot as anybody else to make the team," he said. "I want to be competitive for the top three spots."

Jonas will battle a formidable group for the Olympic spots. Two other young American jumpers are among the best in the world this year. Andra Manson, 24, holds the third best high jump in the world at 2.33, three millimeters behind Jonas. Scott Sellers, the NCAA outdoor champion in 2007, is ranked 7th at 2.30 but owns a 2.33 personal best.

In the women's events, Brittney Reese, who just completed her junior year at Mississippi State University with NCAA indoor and outdoor titles, owned the top long jump in the world at 6.93 (22-9) for more than two months. Lyudmilla Kolchanova of Russia, the 2007 outdoor world championships silver medalist, surpassed Reese with a 7.04-meter leap on June 22.

Reese, 21, finished second at the 2007 U.S. outdoor championships and ended eighth at the world championships last August in her first international competition. Reese, who has decided to turn pro, hopes to set a personal record at the U.S. trials.

"I expect to jump at least 23 feet," she said by phone Monday. "If I don't make the Olympic team, it wouldn't be too much of a disappointment because I am young. I know there are more to come."

Gatlin's trials quest hits another hurdle: The International Olympic Committee says banned U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin is not eligible to compete in the Beijing Olympics regardless of any ruling by a federal court judge in Pensacola.

"Should he wish to appeal this CAS decision, he must do so before the Swiss Federal Court," wrote IOC director of legal affairs Howard Stupp in a letter dated June 23.

Last Friday, U.S. District Judge Lacey A. Collier issued a temporary restraining order that would allow the defending Olympic 100-meter champion to compete in the 100-meter rounds at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials, which begin Friday in Eugene, Ore.

Monday, lawyers for the U.S. Olympic Committee, USA Track & Field and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency gathered in Pensacola to try to persuade the judge that he had no jurisdiction in the matter.

Gatlin had sought the court's relief to compete, contending the punishment violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Two weeks ago, CAS upheld a four-year doping ban against the former world 100- and 200-meter champion. The judge's order, like Gatlin's appeal to CAS, centers on the 26-year-old's first doping offense -- a positive test for amphetamines at the 2001 junior nationals. The substance was part of medication Gatlin was taking for attention deficit disorder.

Gatlin received a two-year suspension but was reinstated after one year.

Powell runs sub-10 in competitive return -- Former 100-meter world record holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica ran 9.96 seconds on his return to competition at the Trinidad and Tobago National Championships on June 21.

The race, into a slight headwind with persistent drizzle, was Powell's first race since February. He endured shoulder surgery in late April after tearing a chest muscle while strength conditioning. Powell ran as a guest in a semifinal of the Trinidad meet but elected not to compete in the final.

After the meet, he said new 100-meter world record holder Usain Bolt has replaced Tyson Gay as his main rival. Bolt and Powell will compete June 27-29 in the Jamaican championships in Kingston and will run against each other for the first time in the 100 meters.

Powell played down the possibility that it would be a major showdown. "I am not sure there will be any real competition there," he said.

The real challenge, Powell said, will come at the Beijing Olympics in August if Bolt decides to run the 100 as well as the 200. Bolt, a silver medalist in the 200 meters at the 2007 world championships, is not expected to announce his decision on a possible double until he has competed in both the 100 and 200 at the Jamaican championships.

He holds the year's fastest times in both events, including the world record of 9.72 in the 100 meters.

Robles claims Liu is still the Olympic favorite: Dayron Robles of Cuba, the 110-meter hurdles world record holder, said last week that Chinese Olympic champion Liu Xiang is the favorite for gold in Beijing.

"I believe at least five guys will be in a position to win the gold," Robles, who lowered Liu's world record to 12.87 seconds on June 12, told a teleconference through a translator. "Obviously, Liu Xiang is the top favorite because of all the titles he has won."

"Four years ago, when Liu Xiang won the Olympic gold in Athens, I was watching the race from home, and I told myself, 'if I get a chance to run the Olympics in Beijing, I am pretty sure this guy will be very hard to beat,'" the 21-year-old said.

Robles said Liu and the top three Americans from the U.S. trials starting this month would be the hurdlers to beat in Beijing. Once unchallenged in the high hurdles, Liu now ranks only fourth on the year's rankings behind Robles and Americans David Oliver and Terrence Trammell.

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