Sheena Johnson, a graduate of Gar-Field High, finished barely out of the medals in the Olympic 400-meter hurdles as a virtually unknown woman from Greece captured the gold. The Olympic Stadium crowd of 56,000 roared as Greek record holder Fani Halkia completed a remarkable run during the last week, improving her time in the event by nearly four seconds from a year ago.
Halkia finished in 52.82 seconds, topping Romania's Ionela Tirlea-Manolache (53.38) and Ukraine's Tetiana Tereshchuk-Antipova (53.44). Johnson, 21, who ran in Lane 8, finished in 53.92.
"I've been dreaming of this moment since I started training in September," Halkia said. "When I entered the stadium today, I could feel it in my bones. . . . I wanted to show the world that the Greeks were born to conquer the top. We do not need crutches to make it."
Despite Johnson's youth, her result was disappointing given the world leading time of 52.95 seconds she ran at the July Olympic trials in Sacramento. The mark stood until last week. Halkia, who entered the Olympics with a personal best of 53.99 seconds, has topped it twice since Sunday.
Asked about Halkia's rapid rise, American Brenda Taylor, who finished seventh, declined to comment.
"I wasn't really looking at her all year," Johnson said. "This last week she has come up big."
Johnson, a student at UCLA, had won the U.S. Olympic trials title and the NCAA championship.
"I had a good race, but it wasn't good enough today," Johnson said. "This is my first time. I have plenty more times to come back."
Jones Gets Double Duty
Marion Jones, who easily advanced Wednesday to the long jump final, will run in both rounds of the 4x100 relay, which begins Thursday. U.S. women's team coach Sue Humphrey made the decision, according to USA Track and Field spokeswoman Jill Geer.
The lineup for the semifinal and final rounds is Angela Williams, Jones, Lauryn Williams and LaTasha Colander. Jones is also a candidate to compete in the 4x400 relay. . . .
Hicham El Guerrouj advanced to the 5,000-meter final fewer than 24 hours after winning the gold in the 1,500 meters, and he did it despite wearing shoes that were uncomfortably tight. El Guerrouj finished in 13 minutes 21.87 seconds, finishing third in a qualifying heat won by Kenenisa Bekele, the 10,000-meter gold medalist here. Bekele crossed the line in 13.21.16.
"I am happy to have qualified for the final, especially because my shoes were too small, and they were hurting me," he said. "But I have new shoes coming for tomorrow's race, so I should be all right."
El Guerrouj became the second Nike athlete at these Games to complain about the comfort of his shoes.
American Stacy Dragila, the 2000 Olympic champion in the pole vault, blamed her failure to get out of the qualifying rounds in part on the new shoes she wore at the July U.S. Olympic trials. Dragila said the shoes irritated her Achilles' tendons and cut into her preparation time for the Games.
Nike held news conferences with both athletes before the track and field competition, in part to show off the new shoes specially designed for them.
In the second heat of the 5,000, American Tim Broe finished sixth in 13:20.29, securing one of the last four qualifying spots. . . .
After a sweep of the men's 400 meters this week, the U.S. team has its eyes on another grand performance in the men's 200 final. Shawn Crawford, Bernard Williams and Justin Gatlin posted the fastest qualifying times in Wednesday's semifinals.
Crawford (20.05) topped Williams (20.18) in the first heat; Gatlin, the 100 gold medal winner, won the second in 20.35. . . .
Three Americans advanced to Saturday's pole vault final, with Tim Mack, Toby Stevenson and Derek Miles all clearing the automatic qualifying height of 18 feet 81/4 inches.