Woody wins 400m hurdles for third time

Updated: April 24, 2004, 11:50 PM ET
Associated Press

DES MOINES, Iowa -- Bernard Lagat and Joey Woody gave the rain-soaked crowd at the Drake Relays something to cheer.

Lagat delivered a sub-four-minute mile Saturday and Woody, long a fan favorite, won the 400-meter hurdles for the third year in a row in cool, wet, blustery conditions that tested the stamina of everyone, whether they were competing or just watching.

"I don't know if I could just come and watch in the rain like that,'' Lagat said. "That tells a lot about the people in Iowa.''

Lagat, an Olympic bronze medalist in 2000 and this year's world indoor champion in the 3,000, ran away from his two main challengers in the final turn to win the mile in 3 minutes, 57.11 seconds. That goes down as the best time in the world this year, though the event has not been run much.

The 29-year-old Kenyan had hoped to break the meet record of 3:55.26 that Steve Scott set in 1979, but the weather slowed him. With better conditions, Lagat felt he could have run 3:53.

"It's the rain. It really makes me not run fast,'' Lagat said. "When you're following a pacemaker, you get water in your eyes. When ... you hit water, you don't feel like you're going fast even though you know you're giving your best.''

As it was, Lagat still managed a 57.3 final lap.

"I knew I had to run the last lap really hard,'' he said. "That's why I had to push all the way to the end. You get tired normally and almost pull up 10 meters before the line, but this time I tried to run all the way through to the line.''

Last year's winner, Boaz Cheboiywo, was second in 4:00.51 and Australian Mark Fountain took third in 4:02.18. Cheboiywo drew almost even with Lagat in the final lap, but Lagat had the stronger kick.

Woody, the world silver medalist last year, didn't need a kick because he got out fast and led all the way in winning the ninth Drake title of his career. His time of 49.18 was comparable to the 49.11 he ran at the Mount SAC Relays last weekend. Considering the conditions, Woody felt he made progress.

"It shows I'm in great shape,'' said Woody, who's from Cedar Falls. "My workouts are going really well. I couldn't be happier about where I'm at right now. If the weather was nice today, I would have definitely ran in the low 48s.''

Woody could have gone a little faster, but lost a few hundredths of a second when he raised both arms in celebration just before the finish. He then blew a kiss to the crowd, which had thinned considerably by the time he ran. Before the rain, the 18,000-seat stadium was almost full.

"I was thinking about that and I was like, well, I know I'm not going to run 47 today so I'll just throw them up,'' he said.

Alabama's Beau Walker and Michigan's Lindsey Gallo were the standouts among the college athletes, Dawane Wallace ran the fastest 110 hurdles in the meet's 95-year history and world champion Perdita Felicien opened her outdoor season with an easy win the women's 100 hurdles.

In her first race since winning the world indoor title in the 60 hurdles, Felicien won in 13-flat and beat runner-up Priscilla Lopes by 10 meters.

"I felt smooth, I felt fluid,'' said Felicien, the world outdoor champion last year. "I've made a point ever since last year to not chase times. The first three years I was looking at time, time. I wouldn't look at the basic mechanics of my race.

"But if you focus on your technique, the times will come down.''

Walker, a sophomore, finished the weekend with four victories. On Saturday, she won the university 100 hurdles and anchored first-place finishes in the 400 and shuttle hurdle relays. She won the 400 hurdles on Friday.

"My expectations were just to compete, get some things corrected I had been working on,'' Walker said. "Obviously, I didn't see myself in this position. I feel extremely blessed.''

Gallo anchored three relay victories in as many days -- the 3,200 Saturday, distance medley on Friday and 6,400 on Thursday. She was grinning when she crossed the finish line Saturday.

"Yesterday it was a race all the way and today I had sort of a cushion, so I could savor the moment,'' Gallo said. "To win all three relays, I'm just so happy I could do it for my teammates.''

Wallace, a former Tennessee athlete, won the invitational 110 hurdles in 13.47, the fastest time that race has been run in any division at Drake. He was thankful for the fans who braved the weather.

"It was so hard to stay warm,'' he said. "But once I went out there and took a couple of starts out of the blocks and looked up at the crowd, it kind of woke me back up.''

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press