And in other track and field news . . .

American athletes are hurdling high, jumping far and running fast enough to make the Olympic trials memorable for reasons other than the turmoil caused by the BALCO scandal.

Even in the men's 1,500, a distance at which no American athlete has won an Olympic medal since Jim Ryun finished second at Mexico City in 1968, there's hope for a landmark performance as the trials began Friday at Hornet Stadium on the Cal State Sacramento campus.

That optimism has been generated by Alan Webb, who broke Ryun's long-standing high school mile record three years ago and has the world's fastest mile time this season, 3 minutes 50.85 seconds. Webb, who left the University of Michigan after one season to train at home in Reston, has whittled his personal best in the 1,500 -- the "metric mile" -- five times this season, to 3:32.73. And he's hoping to do it again here.

"The meet is a huge, huge step in my career," Webb said. "Making the Olympic team has been a goal of mine since I started sports when I was 6 years old. That would mean more to me than just about anything else I could accomplish in track. . . .

"It's a big responsibility to have to go out and perform with such a big title on the line -- United States Olympian. That's something nobody can ever take away from you."

The top three finishers who have met the Olympic "A" standard in their respective events will be nominated to the Olympic team. If a fourth finisher has met the "A" standard, that person will be designated an alternate.

The makeup of the U.S. team probably won't be determined until the last moment because of the allegations of suspected drug use leveled by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency against 100-meter world record holder Tim Montgomery and fellow sprinters Chryste Gaines, Alvin Harrison and Michelle Collins. USADA has told them it will seek to ban them for life, based on evidence gathered during a federal investigation of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or BALCO. All have entered the trials.

Marion Jones, apparently on the path that brought her five medals at Sydney -- she's entered in the 100, 200 and long jump at the trials -- remains under investigation by USADA but has not been charged with drug use. She began competition Friday with the quarterfinal round of the 100. The qualifying round of the women's 100 was canceled because not enough entrants met the "A" or "B" standards.

Meeting the Olympic "A" standard isn't a problem in the sprints and hurdles. And in the men's shot put, the U.S. has an embarrassment of riches: Christian Cantwell holds the top four marks in the world this season, and John Godina, Adam Nelson and Reese Hoffa have recorded the fifth- through twelfth-longest tosses.

But in events such as the women's 1,500, the U.S. has little hope of a medal. Two-time NCAA champion Tiffany McWilliams of Mississippi State, seeded first with a time of 4:06.75, withdrew from the trials because of an injured left knee. That left only Regina Jacobs and Suzy Favor Hamilton as having met the Olympic "A" standard of 4:05.80. Jacobs also is under suspicion for alleged use of the steroid THG, and Favor Hamilton, who pulled out of the Prefontaine Classic last month without explanation, hadn't confirmed her intent to compete as of Thursday.

However, new faces from the college ranks might boost U.S. fortunes in several events.

Lauryn Williams of the University of Miami will be closely watched after winning the NCAA 100-meter title in 10.97 seconds, second in the world this season to the 10.77 run by Ivet Lalova of Bulgaria. San Diego State's Tonette Dyer ranks second in the 200, at 22.34 seconds, and Sheena Johnson of UCLA has the season's second-best time in the 400-meter hurdles, 53.54 seconds.

In the men's 200, Tyson Gay of the University of Arkansas has the season's second-best time, 20.09, and in the 400, Baylor teammates Jeremy Wariner and Darold Williamson rank second and third at 44.50 seconds and 44.51 seconds, respectively.

"Even with the BALCO issues, we are poised to have one of our strongest Olympic trials ever, and we have one of the most promising groups of young, under-22 athletes in recent history," Craig Masback, chief executive officer of USA Track and Field, told the organization's board in a letter he read to reporters during a news conference this week. "There is much to feel good about."

Alan Webb hopes to compete in Athens. "It's a big responsibility to . . . perform with such a big title on the line -- United States Olympian."Christian Cantwell wins Prefontaine Classic with toss of 71.04 feet; he holds top 4 marks in world this year, leads deep contingent of U.S. shot putters.Marion Jones, left, finishes fifth, Gail Devers second in 100 meters at Prefontaine Classic in June. University of Miami's Lauryn Williams won NCAA title in 10.97, second fastest in world this season.