Olympic and world champion hurdler Allen Johnson believes track and field "is cleaner than it's ever been" despite widespread allegations of drug use against U.S. track and field athletes.

"The sport was the dirtiest when nobody was talking about it," Johnson, a four-time world champion and the 1996 Olympic champion in the 110-meter hurdles, said yesterday on the eve of the DN Galan meet in Stockholm.

"Now that everybody is talking about doping, athletics is cleaner than it's ever been."

Four U.S. track and field athletes have received multiyear suspensions this year after testing positive for the steroid THG, which was identified by anti-doping officials last summer. The Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative allegedly distributed the THG.

The U.S. Anti-Doping Agency also has charged four sprinters -- including Tim Montgomery, the world record holder in the 100 and the boyfriend of triple Olympic champion Marion Jones -- with use of THG and other steroids.

All have denied steroid use and requested arbitration hearings. If found guilty, they face lifetime bans.

Still, Johnson insisted banned substances aren't prevalent among U.S. track and field athletes.

"The United States is cleaner right now than any other country in the world," Johnson said. "There are countries participating in the Olympics that don't have out-of-competition testing.

"We do. We get tested by USADA. We're the only country in the world that has an independent agency for testing. Everybody has federation tests. I got tested two days in a row in my Olympic trials. Tell me another country that tests like that."

* MEN'S BASKETBALL: Carmelo Anthony predicted that the U.S. team will win the gold medal in Athens.

"We're guaranteeing a gold medal. We're bringing it back," Anthony said on the team's first day of practice in Jacksonville, Fla.

Coach Larry Brown held a nearly three-hour practice and planned to put the players through two-a-days yesterday and today in an effort to get them acquainted with one another.

* SOFTBALL: Mike Candrea will coach the U.S. team in Athens, fulfilling the wishes of his wife who died recently while traveling with the team.

Sue Candrea died on July 18 of complications from a brain aneurysm during the team's pre-Olympic tour. She was 49.

* WOMEN'S BASKETBALL: Katie Smith's knee injury will not keep her out of the Games. Smith, of the Minnesota Lynx, will be out two to three weeks with a bruised right knee but will play guard for the U.S. team.

* WEIGHTLIFING: Poland's Szymon Kolecki, a silver medalist in 2000 in the 94-kilogram class, will miss the Athens Games after testing positive for the anabolic steroid nandrolone.

-- From News Services