NEW YORK, FEB. 25 -- A year ago, the USA/Mobil Indoor Track and Field Championships featured the strongest field in their 99-year history. On Friday, though, the 100th anniversary edition at Madison Square Garden must make do with a lower level of competition.
Last year, Europe's finest athletes used the meet as a tuneup and the top U.S. competitors as a qualifier for the first World Indoor Championships a week later at Indianapolis.
There are no World Indoors in this, an Olympic year, and with the track competition at Seoul scheduled to begin so late (Sept. 23), many athletes have not yet begun serious training, much less honed themselves to a championship level.
A notable exception is Jackie Joyner-Kersee, the double gold medalist at the World Outdoor Championships. Joyner-Kersee set a U.S. indoor record of 23 feet 1/2 inch in the long jump Feb. 13 and the next night at George Mason University did the same in the 60-meter hurdles, with a time of 7.88. She will participate only in the hurdles -- this time 55 meters -- on Friday.
The foreign contingent, usually prominent in this meet that concludes the North American open season indoors, is limited Friday -- seven Soviets, a few Romanian distance runners, a handful of Canadians and Ireland's Marcus O'Sullivan are most prominent.
Many of the featured matchups are those that have spiced the current indoor campaign. Notable of course is the men's 55-meter hurdles, where Greg Foster bids for a fifth title against some men who don't like him much -- Tonie Campbell, Roger Kingdom, and Cletus Clark.
Foster has been pointing fingers while winning, an act not designed to win friends, and Campbell said after last week's episode in Los Angeles, "It's gotten to the point where I'm not going to take it anymore. I just hope he gets the message that I'm about to explode."
Foster's reply: "Personally, I think it's funny. It's hilarious."
Diane Dixon, the only U.S. woman to finish first here a year ago, goes after her sixth straight title in the 400 meters. Valerie Brisco, one for four against Dixon this winter, is one of the chief competitors.
Gwen Torrence, recovered from the sore hip caused by a fall at the finish at George Mason, risks her 38-race victory string in indoor sprints against a tough group that includes Evelyn Ashford.
The mile runs, usually billed as the feature events, should be 11-lap victory parades for O'Sullivan, unbeaten at that distance this winter, and Romania's Doina Melinte, new holder of the women's indoor record at 4:18.86. However, some interest was added to the men's version when Brian Abshire, who recently set a U.S. indoor record for 3,000 meters, elected to try the shorter distance here.
Soviet Igor Paklin, the world indoor champion, heads a strong high-jump field that includes Jimmy Howard, Brian Stanton, James Lott and Milt Ottey.
One entry in the women's high jump is Debbie Brill of Canada, winner of three titles in this meet.
The pole vault lists some good ones -- Earl Bell, Billy Olson, Mike Tully and Soviet Rodion Gataullin.
The 13-meet, $150,000 Mobil Grand Prix concludes Friday, with double points awarded in each championship event.