In the summer of 2000, District native Aquil Abdullah failed to make the Summer Games in Sydney by the most narrow of margins: 33 hundredths of a second. In an excruciating defeat at the U.S. Olympic Trials that left him slumped over the oars of his single scull, Abdullah finished just inches behind in a tie-breaking race against Don Smith.
Four years later, Abdullah has tried to forget that heartbreak as he once again competes for a spot on his first Olympic team. As in 2000, Abdullah sits on the cusp of qualification, and this time he hopes to take advantage.
With a first-place finish at the National Selection Regatta in Princeton, N.J., in April, Abdullah and double sculls partner Henry Nuzum earned the right to travel to Germany next weekend where they can earn a position at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens merely by finishing in the top four at the Munich World Cup.
"Winning the regatta, it definitely gives us the opportunity and makes things seem that much closer," said Abdullah, 30, a graduate of Wilson High and George Washington University. "I realize this is my chance. This is what I've been working for the last four years."
Even if they don't finish in the top four, Abdullah and Nuzum would have one more shot to qualify for the Games by winning the double sculls event at the U.S. Olympic Selection Trials June 26-July 1 in Princeton. Of course, both would prefer to secure their place on the team this weekend.
"From all of the progress we have made since our last race, I'm pretty confident we'll be able to improve upon what we did at the selection regatta in April," Abdullah said.
Their success at the regatta actually was a huge surprise. Four days before the competition, both Abdullah and Nuzum were shopping for new partners because they hadn't been racing well together, Abdullah said. Neither, however, could find anyone else on short notice.
The victory cemented their relationship. After the race, they moved from their training home in Princeton to Boston to work with Harvard University lightweight coach Charlie Butt Jr.
"Each step along the way, I have to make sure I am making the right decisions as far as training," Abdullah said.
White May Keep Some Winnings
Though U.S. sprinter Kelli White's admission of doping and acceptance of a two-year ban last week led to the nullification of all of her results since mid-December of 2000, she might end up keeping much of the prize money she won during that time. Because the world governing body of track and field (IAAF) never paid her the $120,000 it owed her for her world titles in the 100 and 200, she will not get that money, but IAAF officials apparently don't plan to chase down every dollar she owes the organization from victories over the last three years.
White earned $304,856 in 2003 and $34,250 in 2002, according to statistician Bob Ramsak of Track Profile News Service.
IAAF spokesman Nick Davies said the organization's priority was ensuring that athletes who finished behind White in various competitions received the money and medals they are owed. Davies said Torri Edwards, who finished second to White in the 100 final and third in the 200 at the world championships, will in the coming weeks receive new medals -- a gold and silver -- as well as a check for the difference in prize money. Davies said the IAAF would urge USA Track and Field to present Edwards the medals at a ceremony of some sort.
White also must forfeit the $4,000 from the U.S. Olympic Committee for each of her 100 and 200 gold medals at the 2003 U.S. championships, according to her attorney, Jerrold Colton. However, some of her winnings came from international Grand Prix events, whose purses are paid by individual event organizers. It is unclear how much of that money White will be forced to relinquish.
Roof-less Pool Poses Few Problems
U.S. swimmers said the decision of Athens organizers to abandon plans to build a roof over the competition pool would present only minor problems to two groups of athletes: backstrokers accustomed to training indoors who use the ceiling to help them swim straight in their lanes, and distance swimmers likely to feel the effects of the hot sun should it warm the pool beyond the fixed temperature it is supposed to remain.
In general, however, the swimmers said the absence of a roof would do little more than help them work on their tans. Several pointed out that the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona featured a pool without a roof, as will this July's swimming U.S. Olympic trials in Long Beach, Calif.
"At this level, most people swim outdoors in the heat and know what to do," said Jenny Thompson, who has competed in three Olympics. "The people most affected will be the fans."
Said North Baltimore's Michael Phelps, who might try to win as many as seven gold medals in Athens: "In my opinion, a pool with lane lines and water is all you really need." . . .
Thompson, who attended Columbia medical school full-time until this January while training for the Summer Games, said studying for medical boards at the end of her second year while training for last summer's world championships in Barcelona proved exhausting. Her days began with the first of two workouts at 7 a.m. and ended at 1 a.m. when she concluded her studying for the day.
"I didn't have any social life," she said. "I barely had time to eat and go to the bathroom."
Jones Is Upbeat on Progress
Marion Jones said she has made great strides under new coach Dan Pfaff, whom she and partner Tim Montgomery began working with last summer after severing ties with controversial coach Charlie Francis.
"The biggest change has been in the long jump," Jones said, noting that she has worked on the event since 1992. "I've learned more in the last 10 months than in all that time competing."
Under former coach Trevor Graham, the long jump was considered Jones's weakest event. . . .
Beach volleyball player Jeff Nygaard, who spent seven months playing professionally in Athens, said he was confident the Greeks would pull delayed construction projects together in time for the Games, but expected things would not run smoothly. He described the scramble to finish venues as "a sinking ship."
"They're going to pull it off, there's no question," he said. "There's so much riding on this. This is the birthplace of the Olympics. It's just that it's going to be 75 percent [operational]. . . . . It will run. It will work. But it won't be the best it can be. It won't be Sydney. It won't be Atlanta."
He said he and other beach volleyball players expected to stay on a ship near their venue in the Port of Pireaus so they could avoid the traffic congestion from the Olympic Village, which is about 15 miles away.