After sitting in front of a microphone trying to hold back tears, raw disappointment making his voice dip and dive, pole vaulter Tim Mack apologized. This was an uncustomary position for him -- trying to explain defeat.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I was probably more upbeat last September."
Mack, who last August won the Olympic gold medal, failed Thursday to qualify for the team that will represent the United States at the world championships in Helsinki in August. He finished seventh -- only the top three made it -- in his event at the USA Track and Field Outdoor Championships.
Mack achieved only the first height he attempted, 17 feet 81/2 inches, then missed all three attempts at 18-21/2. At the Olympics in Athens, he jumped 19-61/4, an Olympic record. He followed that up with a win at the prestigious IAAF Grand Prix Final and ended the year ranked No. 1 in the world.
Mack, 32, said he felt subpar going into the meet because of insufficient preparation, and the gusting winds at Home Depot Center throughout the day only made matters worse. Mack missed the entire winter indoor season because of a strained left calf.
"I just couldn't quite get a rhythm," Mack said. "The guys who made it, they've got a rhythm. Right now, I don't. . . . I guess I could see it coming. . . . My legs weren't quite under me."
Brad Walker, this year's indoor champion, won the event, achieving a height of 18-101/4. Nick Hysong, the 2000 Olympic champion, finished second (18-61/2) and Toby Stevenson, the 2004 Olympic silver medal winner, finished third (18-61/2).
Jumping for Joy
Another Olympic gold medalist was upset in the long jump, but this was more of a victory for Miguel Pate than a defeat for defending Olympic champion Dwight Phillips. After having missed nearly all of the last two years because of a major knee injury, Pate jumped 27-43/4 to top Phillips, who achieved 27-2.
"I'm very upset I just lost," said Phillips, who also won the 2003 world indoor and outdoor championships. "I'm very angry right now."
Pate, however, offered an inspirational story, having concluded a grueling recovery from three torn ligaments in his knee. After suffering the injury in May 2003, he spent six months on crutches. At last year's Olympic trials, he finished 17th in qualifying. "Before my confidence level was real high," said Pate, who in 2002 became only the third man to jump 28 feet indoors. "I thought I was invincible. I'm out here having fun now."
Wariner Has Company
The Olympic gold medal Jeremy Wariner won last year in leading a U.S. sweep of the 400 meters earned him a hefty contract with Adidas and comparisons to his mentor and world record holder Michael Johnson, but it won't get him anywhere this weekend.
Even he won't be able to take it easy in a field that includes the athlete with the two fastest times in the world this year -- Wariner's training partner, Darold Williamson -- along with nine men who have posted times under 45 seconds in the event.
"Everybody's going to fight for those spots," Wariner said after winning his first-round heat in 45.29, the best time of the day. "The second around is going to be fast, and the final is going to be even faster."
Williamson, who posted the world's best time -- 44.27 -- in the semifinals of the NCAA championships for Baylor before turning pro, won his heat in 45.58.
"We're able to work together because we're such good friends," said Williamson, who won his heat in 45.58. "Our racing has never come between us. . . . The way me and Jeremy have both been running, we're really looking forward to being on this team together."
Derrick Brew, the Olympic bronze medal winner, won his heat in 45.48 and LaShawn Merritt claimed the other in 45.70. How promising is Merritt? He turned pro in the middle of this season, after setting the world indoor junior record as an East Carolina freshman. Kelly Willie (46.04) and Andrew Rock (45.76), both 2004 Olympians, are also in the field, along with Tyree Washington (45.95), once thought to the heir apparent to Johnson but now considered, as he put it, "the old man of the group." He's 29.
Moment of Silence
Spectators, track officials and athletes observed a moment of silence for Paul Suzuki, who died Wednesday after being struck by a shot put during a practice for the championships. Suzuki, who was 77, was helping retrieve shot puts in an unofficial capacity as athletes practiced for Sunday's competition.
Agent Paul Doyle, who represents Olympic shot putters Adam Nelson and Reese Hoffa, said Suzuki was not watching the throwers when a shot put came in his direction, As athletes shouted warnings, he turned and was struck on the left side of his forehead. . . .
Sheena Johnson, a Gar-Field High graduate, advanced in the 400 hurdles with the third-fastest time (56.01) of the night. . . . Lake Braddock High's Allen Johnson easily advanced in the 110 hurdles, finishing second in his heat in 13.76. . . . South Lakes graduate Alan Webb posted the day's third-fastest qualifying time in the 1,500, finishing first in a tactical race in 3 minutes 44.32 seconds. Georgetown's Christopher Lukezic also qualified, finishing in 3:40.82. . . . Amy Acuff won the women's high jump (6-23/4).