As Dix, Lee Make Their Marks, Howard's Oliver Wins One, Too
Monday, July 7, 2008; Page E01
EUGENE, Ore., July 6 -- These Olympic trials were supposed to crown Tyson Gay and Allyson Felix as the king and queen of U.S. track and field, sending both to Beijing in search of two individual gold medals in the highest-profile sprint events.
Instead, meet Walter Dix and Muna Lee.
The pair soared from virtual anonymity to medal favorites in the sport's glamour events, the 100 and 200 meters, during the eight days of these championships. Assuming they are named to the 4x100 relay teams, both are expected to contend for three medals in Beijing.
"I cannot be more excited about a meet than this one," Dix said. "It's been a Cinderella story."
Dix won the men's 200 Sunday in 19.86 seconds, a week after finishing second to Gay in the men's 100. Gay suffered a cramp during the heats of the 200 Saturday and did not compete in the 200 final.
Lee, meantime, added a silver medal to the gold she won in the 100 last weekend, finishing second to Felix, the reigning Olympic champion, in Sunday's 200. Felix, who finished fifth in the 100, won in 21.82 seconds; Lee crossed the line in 21.99.
Asked by a television reporter to discuss his dreams for Beijing, Dix offered three words before walking away.
"Two gold medals," he said pointedly.
The pair headlined a dizzying finish to the trials in front of 21,176 at Hayward Field. Alan Webb, a graduate of South Lakes High in Reston, sputtered to a fifth-place finish in a 1,500 race topped by Kenyan-born Bernard Lagat (3 minutes 40.37 seconds), Mexican-born Leonel Manzano (3:40.90) and Sudan-born Lopez Lomong (3:41.00).
Webb failed to make the Olympic team a year after setting the U.S. record in the mile. Clocked in 3:41.62, he stormed through the interview area without commenting.
Howard graduate David Oliver had a considerably better day, winning an Olympic invitation and national title with his first-place finish in the 110-meter hurdles, edging Terrence Trammell at the finish in a wind-aided 12.95 seconds. Trammell crossed in 13.00. Lolo Jones did the same in the women's hurdles, reveling in her wind-aided finish in 12.29, crushing a field that included Damu Cherry, second in 12.58.
"I wasn't very nervous. I wasn't having any anxiety attack or anything like that before the race," Oliver said. "I was just more nervous to get it going."
Jennifer Stuczynski provided her now trademark excitement in the pole vault, breaking her own American record with her winning jump of 16 feet 1.75 inches.
For all of the gold medals awarded, the one that raised the most interesting possibilities landed on the considerable chest of Dix, a recent Florida State graduate who could have cashed in on his speed a year ago. After becoming the first collegian since 1969 to win NCAA titles in the 100, 200 and 4x100 last year, Dix slammed the door on a six-digit contract by announcing that he would not turn professional. He even skipped the summer's world championships in Osaka, Japan.
He preferred, he said, to honor his promise to his mother and go back to school to finish his degree. Beset by a hamstring injury that cost him more than a month of training, Dix was barely heard from. As track hounds analyzed the expected matchups between Gay and Jamaicans Asafa Powell and Usain Bolt, Dix was completely overlooked. His hamstring was so problematic he finished fourth at this year's NCAA championships in the 100.
But when he showed up here in his weathered school track suits, he was fast from the start.
On Sunday, Dix chased down Shawn Crawford in the homestretch, edging him by the tip of his shoe at the finish with an official time of 19.852 to 19.857. Crawford's head actually beat Dix's head to the line. Wallace Spearmon, meantime, nearly caught up to both, bringing a furious late charge to claim the third Olympic spot. Rodney Martin, who had the fastest times in the qualifying rounds, finished fourth in 19.99.
"It was a great race," Dix said. "I finished strong. I'm happy I got through. . . . I'm trying to get some golds at Beijing. That's my goal, to go after it."
Lee qualified for the Olympic team in 2004 but finished just seventh in the 200. A slew of problems -- calf and hamstring injuries, a car accident and coaching change -- has troubled her in recent years. After finally settling in with a new coach, Vince Anderson, last year, Lee feared that a car wreck two weeks ago in College Station, Tex., that left her with bumps and bruises might derail her quest.
But Lee, an NCAA runner up with LSU in the 100 and 200 in 2003 and '04, might finally be realizing her potential. She was steady and consistent throughout the rounds.
"I'm going to go for it," Lee said about Beijing. "I'm just going to try to bring back the hardware."
And what would she do to celebrate her success here?
"I just got to go to back to the weight room," she said. "All this tore me down a little bit."