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Wednesday, August 25, 2004
Sheena Johnson fourth in 400M hurdles

Associated Press

ATHENS, Greece -- American Allen Johnson had the attention of everyone in the stadium, for all the wrong reasons.

The four-time world champion and the 1996 Olympic gold medalist made a shocking exit from the second round of the 110-meter hurdles. He tripped over the ninth hurdle, then stumbled and fell underneath the last one -- ending up face down on the track, glasses flying off his face, as competitors crossed the finish line.

Johnson said it was only the second time in his career he has fallen in a race.

"It was going great, and then I don't know. I just went down," Johnson said. "I thought I was in control until I hit that hurdle. I got myself together, but the last one I hit and went down.

"I'm fairly disappointed, but it happens. I'll be watching the final. There's nothing I can do.''

He was the latest of several Americans who came to Athens favored for medals but will leave empty-handed -- including pole vaulter Stacy Dragila, hurdler Gail Devers, decathlete Tom Pappas and shot putter John Godina.

To the roar of an adoring home crowd, Fani Halkia completed her unexpected romp through the Olympics on Wednesday with a victory in the women's 400-meter hurdles.

Halkia, who set an Olympic record 52.77 seconds in the semifinals, won in 52.82. Ionela Tirlea-Manolache of Romania won the silver in 53.38 and Tetiana Tereschuk-Antipova of Ukraine the bronze in 53.44.

Sheena Johnson, the U.S. trials champion who is just 21 years old, was fourth in 53.83. Australian Jana Pittman, the world champion, finished fifth two weeks after undergoing knee surgery.

Halkia, 25, had seen her time improve by more than 3 seconds over the past season. Her best a year ago was 56.40. She ran 53.99 at a meet in Iraklion this year.

"I have been in excellent form for the last three months," she told Greek reporters. "This is a logical progression."

American Brenda Taylor, who finished seventh, was asked whether she was surprised at how quickly Halkia had improved.

"Can I take the fifth on that question," she said. "Yeah, she sure did come out of nowhere. She ran an Olympic record, which is incredible, no matter how long you've been hurdling. She p.r.'d by two seconds this year, so more power to her."

Taylor stopped short of accusing the gold medalist of doing anything illegal to improve her times.

"The 400 hurdles is one of those races where a lot of things make a big difference, whether you learn how to hurdle, or you work on your speed, or you work on your technique. For example, this year I've improved in the two-second range. It's hard to say. That's all I have to say about that," she added, laughing.

Johnson also was surprised by the Greek's victory.

"Yeah, I mean, I wasn't really looking at her all year as a contender," Johnson said. "Just the past three weeks she came up and started running real well."

Halkia, though, credited the atmosphere of the packed Olympic Stadium.

"Before these games, I was sure that I could win because I thought that the Greek soul is so great, that it can carry an athlete to victory," she said. "I wanted to show that any athlete at a high level can win a final in these conditions."

Near the start of the long jump runway, awaiting her second attempt, Marion Jones sat impassively as Halkia pranced by on her victory lap. Jones later automatically qualified for the long jump final on her second jump. The leap of leaped 21 feet, 11 inches to surpass the automatic qualifying distance of 21-10 and advance to Friday's final.

In other events Wednesday, Hicham El Guerrouj qualified easily for the final of the 5,000 one night after his dramatic and emotional victory in the 1,500. Winning that preliminary heat was 10,000 champion Kenenisa Bekele, setting up a Saturday night duel in the final between two men trying to complete a rare Olympic distance double.

Only four men have won the 5,000 and 10,000 at one Olympics, as Bekele is attempting. And a 1,500-5,000 sweep would be even more unusual -- El Guerrouj would be only the second man to accomplish that. Paavo Nurmi did it in 1924.

Russia's Olga Kuzenkova won the gold medal in the hammer throw with an Olympic-record toss of 246 feet, 1 inch. Cubans Yipsi Morena and Yunaika Crawford took silver and bronze.

The crowd at Olympic Stadium roared as Kuzenkova, who won the 2002 European Championships, broke her own previous Olympic record of 241 feet, 10 inches, which she had set Monday during qualifying. Moreno reached 240 feet, 8 inches, while Crawford recorded 240 feet.

Kuzenkova, who took silver at the 2000 Sydney Games, threw 248 feet, 3 inches in June 2000, the second-best throw of all time.