For 400-meter specialist Suziann Reid and veteran hurdler Allen Johnson, two area high school athletes who are now bona fide professional stars, today's D.C. Invitational in Fairfax provides a chance to shine in front of a home crowd -- and a national television audience -- just eight months before the Sydney Olympics.
The event kicks off USA Track & Field's Golden Spike Tour, a series of five indoor meets that culminates with the national championships in Atlanta March 3-4.
Johnson, the 28-year-old veteran from Lake Braddock High School in Burke, long has been one of track's biggest stars. In 1996, he won the 110-meter hurdles at the U.S. Olympic trials in what remains the American record of 12.92 seconds. He capped that performance by winning the gold medal at the Atlanta Olympics in 12.95, and ended the year ranked No. 1 in the world. Sandwiching Johnson's Olympic victory were gold medals at the '95 and '97 world championships and another No. 1 ranking in 1997.
Last year, however, a pelvic stress fracture cost Johnson his indoor season. Outdoors, he finished second at the U.S. national meet and qualified for the world championships, but in Seville, Spain, a calf injury forced him to withdraw after two rounds. His ranking fell to No. 3 in the United States and No. 5 in the world.
"I feel like I've still got a couple of good years left in me," Johnson said. "I still enjoy competing. This year, if I can stay healthy, I'll be fine."
Throughout his high school and collegiate career (at North Carolina), Johnson competed numerous times at George Mason University; he has won the last four times he has started there.
"There will be lots of people cheering for me," he said. "And I'll be trying to win. Any time I line up, I try to win, especially being at home."
Pressing him in the 60-meter hurdles -- one of today's premier events -- will be Mark Crear, who has been the world's top hurdler the past two years, and third-ranked Larry Wade.
The Invitational also is a homecoming for Reid, an Eleanor Roosevelt High graduate who spent part of yesterday speaking to students at two D.C. schools.
Following a phenomenal prep career during which she compiled more than 20 state titles and led the Greenbelt school to team titles all four years, Reid began competing for the University of Texas in 1996. There she won three NCAA outdoor and two indoor titles in her specialty -- the 400.
Reid will graduate in May, but has exhausted her NCAA eligibility and is focusing on making the Olympic team. Last year, she finished second at the nationals, then competed on the European circuit, setting a personal best of 50.74 seconds in Monte Carlo, Monaco. At the world championships, she finished eighth in the semifinals.
"Last year was good," she said. "I learned a lot. Mostly, I learned that I have to work harder. That's the plain, bottom line. I had a long season, but this is an Olympic year. It's time to start again. There are no excuses this year."
Today's race pits Reid against perennial U.S. 400-meter champion Jearl Miles-Clark.
"It should be an impressive race," Reid said. "I'm not so concerned with the time. I'm going for the win."
What: Indoor track meet, the first in USA Track & Field's 2000 Golden Spike Tour.
Where: GMU Fieldhouse, Fairfax.
When: 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Elite events begin at 2.
Tickets: Available through Ticketmaster and at the door, $10-$20.
TV: 2:30 p.m., WRC-4, WBAL-11.
60 meters: Jon Drummond, Tim Harden, Bryan Howard, Brian Lewis.
400: Derrick Adkins, Tyree Washington, Leonard Byrd, Danny McCray, Dameon Johnson.
800: Johnny Gray, Rick Kenah, Khadevis Robinson, Bryan Woodward, Trinity Townsend, Elliott Gaskins, Al Royster, Mario Vernon-Watson.
Mile: David Krummenacker, Kevin Sullivan, Karl Paranya, Einars Tupuritis, Jean Destine.
60 hurdles: Allen Johnson, Mark Crear, Larry Wade, Duane Ross, Reggis Torian.
60 meters: Inger Miller, Chandra Sturrup, Carlette Guidry-White, LaKeshia Backus, Kelli White, Torri Edwards.
400: Jearl Miles-Clark, Maicel Malone-White, Suziann Reid, Kim Graham, Shanelle Porter.
800: Regina Jacobs, Joetta Clark-Diggs, Michelle DiMuro-Ave, Hazel Clark, Debbie Grant.
60 hurdles: Melissa Morrison, Cheryl Dickey, Yolanda McCray, Andria King, Anjanette Kirkland.
High jump: Amy Acuff, Gwne Wentland, Angie Bradburn-Spangler.
Pole vault: Stacy Dragila, Mel Mueller, Kellie Suttle, Kim Becker, Melissa Price, Jill Wittenwyler.
Shot put: Connie Price-Smith, Terri Tunks, Tressa Thompson.