ATHENS, Greece -- Alan Webb was outmaneuvered and outrun in the first round of the 1,500 meters Friday, a quick exit for the runner who was supposed to end America's streak of mediocrity in middle-distance races.
While the 21-year-old youngster faltered, the squad's most storied Olympian -- 37-year-old Gail Devers -- barely survived the second round in the women's 100. She captured the 16th and final spot in Saturday's semifinals, avoiding elimination by .01 seconds.
Devers, who won gold in the 100 in 1992 and 1996, was fourth in her heat -- the top three automatically advance -- but was one of
four runners to qualify on time, in 11.31.
Webb was trying to end a 36-year U.S. drought in the Olympic 1,500. Twenty-four runners advanced, and Webb had the 25th-fastest
time: 3 minutes, 41.25 seconds.
He missed qualifying by .11 seconds.
The last American to win an Olympic 1,500 medal was Jim Ryun,
now a Kansas congressman, who earned a silver in 1968.
In the women's 100, Yuliya Nesterenko of Belarus had the fastest
times in the first (10.94) and second (10.99) rounds. Also
advancing were gold-medal favorite Christine Arron of France and
Bulgaria's Ivet Lalova -- fastest in the world this year, with a
10.77 race in June.
Joining them in the semifinals will be 44-year-old Merlene
Ottey, who is running in her seventh Olympics. The Jamaican native,
now running for Slovenia, has eight Olympic medals.
Missing from the 100 were defending Olympic champion Marion
Jones, world champion Torri Edwards, Kelli White and Chryste
Gaines. Edwards and White are serving drug suspensions. Jones and
Gaines did not qualify. Jones is under investigation by the U.S.
Anti-Doping Agency and Gaines has been charged by USADA with
steroid use. Both claim they never used performance-enhancing
U.S. Olympic trials triple jump champion Melvin Lister failed to
make the finals in the event. Lister, who had the world-leading
mark of 58 feet, 4 inches (7.78 meters) entering the competition,
was 18th in the preliminary round at 54-7 1.4 (16.64). The top 12
U.S. men's coach George Williams has said that Lister was hit
hard by the news that his training partner, Robert Howard, had died
in a murder-suicide. Police said Howard killed his wife then jumped
to his death in Little Rock, Ark., last Saturday.
Women from war-torn Aghanistan and Iraq competed in the 100.
Robina Muqimyar of Afghanistan, dressed in long running pants but
wearing no head scarf, was seventh in her heat at 14.14 seconds,
beating Fartun Omar Abukar of Somalia. Ala'a Jassim of Iraq was last
in her heat at 12.70 seconds.
Omid Marban, a 20-year-old man who appears on a television show
called "Good Morning Afghanistan,'' said Muqimyar's performance
would not be popular in that country.
"The majority of people in Afghanistan do not like Afghan women
to run outside with some 20,000 people watching her,'' he said.
``But she was wearing long trousers. That means she did respect her
people, even though she did not have a scarf.''
Competition began under a blazing sun Friday morning with the
men's 20-kilometer walk.
Ivano Brugnetti of Italy won in a personal-best 1 hour, 19
minutes, 39 seconds, finishing five seconds ahead of Francisco
Fernandez of Spain. Nathan Deakes of Australia took the bronze.
Favorite Jefferson Perez of Ecuador -- the event's world record
holder, 2003 world champion and 1996 Olympic gold medalist -- was fourth.
In the 10,000 meters, Kenenisa Bekele crossed the finish line,
took a couple of deep breaths and then waited for his mentor. A
pained Haile Gebrselassie arrived 22 seconds later and the two
Ethiopians hugged -- the old champion giving way to the new.
Bekele, sprinting the final lap, ended Gebrselassie's eight-year
reign, smashing his training partner's Olympic record by more than two seconds.
The two then clasped hands and joined yet another countryman,
silver medalist Sileshi Sihine, in a victory lap beneath their
green, yellow and red flag.
Bekele finished in 27 minutes, 05.10 seconds. Sihine was about
30 meters behind Bekele, followed by Zersenay Tadesse of Eritrea.
Gebrselassie, suffering from an Achilles injury in what was
probably the final track appearance of his magnificent career,
finished fifth in 27:27.70.