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Saturday, August 21, 2004
Race just practice for the hurdles

By Sherry Skalko
ESPN.com

ATHENS, Greece -- Gail Devers crouches down in the starting blocks, takes off when the starting gun fires and crosses the finish line just like everyone else who runs the 100, but the 100 isn't Gail Devers' race. Not the way it's Marion Jones' race or will be Lauryn Williams' race someday.

That's one of the reasons why Devers wasn't upset after failing to advance to the women's 100-meter finals at Olympic Stadium on Saturday. Devers, who is running in her fifth Olympics, hasn't trained continuously for the 100 meters in the last two years. She planned to after she accepted the spot offered to her after Torri Edwards' failed drug test, but a lingering leg injury stalled Devers' preparation.

Gail Devers
A 100-meter loss seems to be Devers' gain for the 100 hurdles.

So why didn't she turn the spot over to -- ahem -- someone else?

Because of the other reason: She needed the practice to make sure she's healthy enough to run the 100-meter hurdles.

"My goal was to make it to the final. It didn't work out that way," she said after her time of 11.22 had eliminated her from the 100. "I'm disappointed that I didn't get in the final, because I would have loved to have been there, but I'm not disappointed in my decision. What better way to get a speed workout than in the Olympic Games?"

Sorry, Marion.

The 100-meter hurdles begin Sunday and Devers is under pressure to win. Not because she occupied a spot in the 100 meters that might have been better filled by Jones, but because Devers actually runs the 100 hurdles. It's her event. The one she's trained for continuously for more than 20 years.

Confused? Of course, you are, because most of the time when you think of Devers, you think of 100 meters of track with nothing on it. You think of her as the back-to-back Olympic gold medalist in the 100 meters, the first woman to do so since American Wyomia Tyus in 1964 and '68. You think of Devers as a member of the U.S. women's 4x100 meter relay team that won the gold in Atlanta in 1996.

You think of her as a sprinter who moonlights as a hurdler because she has never won the 100-meter hurdles in the Olympics. She owns it in the U.S., having won 10 of the last 14 U.S. national titles, including the last six. She has also won three world championships (1993, 95, 99). But the Olympics? Not even close. She fell and finished fifth in Barcelona in 1992. She finished fourth in 1996. She was expected to win it finally in Sydney, but an injury forced her to pull out of the event.

She's 37 years old, although she'd prefer not being reminded of it. She won't say if her age is catching up with her and she hasn't said whether Athens is her last Games.

"I have no problem with my leg," she said, trotting down the corridor after granting media interviews. "I'm 19 years old and I'm here at my first Olympic Games going after my Olympic gold medal in the 100-meter hurdles."

Her gold medal, the one she hasn't won.