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Posted: May 28, 2009  : Add to Mixx! Subscribe to stories like this

Athletics: Ladies first - World champions Williams, Campbell gear up for another bout

NEW YORK - The world watched in awe at the 2008 Olympic Games as Jamaican sprinters wrestled the title of the world's dominant sprint country from the United States, sweeping the gold medals in the men's and women's 100 and 200 meters.

At Saturday's Reebok Grand Prix at Icahn Stadium, two of the most decorated leaders in that rivalry will face off once again as Veronica Campbell and Lauryn Williams - the last two world champions in the women's 100 meters - face off in the Visa Women's 100. Their race will be part of a sprinting spectacular that also will include world champion and Olympic silver medalist Allyson Felix in the women's 400m; former world record holder Asafa Powell of Jamaica and Olympic silver medalist Richard Thompson of Trinidad & Tobago in the Visa Men's 100; and 100m American record holder and reigning world champion Tyson Gay in the men's 200m.

Campbell and Williams on Thursday spoke of the rivalries between their countries, and each other. Williams, who was flummoxed in Beijing by the performance of U.S. sprinters, including her own fourth-place finish in the 100, was clear about how Beijing has affected American sprinters' mentality.

"It should definitely push U.S. sprinting to a new level," said the four-time World Outdoor medalist and 2004 Olympic 100m silver medalist. "You have to choose whether you are going to be broken by it or step up to the challenge and become the dominant force. Right now Jamaica has that title, and there are no ifs, ands or buts about it. Mentally, we have to focus and get ready. We have to step up to the challenge."

She said she is ready to do that on Saturday, where she will take on two-time Olympic 200m gold medalist and reigning world 100m champion Veronica Campbell. The two have had countless close races in the past, including the 2004 Olympic Games where Williams was second and Campbell third in the 100, and the 2007 World Championships 100, where Campbell beat Williams by less than one-thousandth of a second. It was a photo finish that took several minutes to sort out.

"Lauryn has always been a great competitor over the years," Campbell said, "and one of my favorites, I must say. Whenever you are in a race, there are certain people you have to be ready for. Rivalries are good for the sport because they help you push each other."

Jamaicans pushed sprinting to new levels in Beijing, and already enthusiastic Jamaican track fans have become positively rabid about their national heroes. "It's a great feeling," Campbell said about the outpouring of support from her countrymen. "After our performances at the Beijing Olympic Games, a lot of people are looking forward to Jamaica US match-ups."

But life is not all about the track for Williams, who graduated a semester early from the University of Miami in 2004, spoke at her commencement ceremony, and recently completed her MBA online.

"What put it in perspective was my father's passing away in October," she said. "I was sad about what had happened in Beijing. When my father passed away in October, it put into perspective for me. This is just a race. It's 11 seconds and it's over. Life goes on. I'm looking forward to Berlin."

Berlin will host the IAAF World Outdoor Championships in August, where fans can expect to see yet another Williams-Campbell face-off.

WELCOME BACK, TYSON: Tyson Gay on Saturday will run the 200m for the first time on U.S. soilsince the 2008 Olympic Trials, where he injured his hamstring in the rounds. The track at Icahn Stadium, located on Randall's Island, has been good to Gay over the years. He was runner-up in the 100 in 2006 and in 2007 he had his first major performance that announced him as the world's top sprinter of the year, winning the 100 in a wind-aided time of 9.76. In 2008, he finished second, in a speedy 9.85, to Usain Bolt's then-world record winning time of 9.72.

"This meet has been real good to me," Gay said of the Reebok Grand Prix. "Of course everybody knows last year was a great race, with a world record for Usain Bolt. It's a great meet for the U.S. and can help make track and field even bigger."

Icahn Stadium regularly draws a large Caribbean attendance, thanks to the large population of immigrants from the region as well as families of Caribbean descent. As Powell and Thompson compete in New York for the first time, Gay prepared them for the experience.

"The track is fast, and the stadium is going to be packed," he said. "There are a lot of Caribbean fans in the stands. It may be almost like a smaller Penn Relays thing, kind of Jamaica vs. US. You guys are going to have a lot of support. A LOT of support."

Thursday's press conference also featured American pole vaulter Jenn Stuczynski, Swedish long jumper and the world's most dominant heptathlete, Carolina Kluft; and Powell and Thompson. Below are excerpts.

LAURYN WILLIAMS

On 2009 thus far: So far so good as far as my training has gone. I haven't run quite the stellar races I was planning on, based on where my training is. My three races weren't as fast as I thought they'd be but I did run 22.6 for a 200. My training is good and my fitness level is where it needs to be.

Advice to young athletes: My motto is hard work knows no limits. The idea is if you work hard, there is always a door that will open for you. Whether your sprinting, in school or playing an instrument, you will excel and reach your full potential.

On the importance in competing in New York, on live TV: It's definitely very important. This is an historical city and a great place to compete. They make sure every year that there is an amazing field. It's important for me to be an ambassador for the sport and carry myself, and be the first one to the finish line. But at the same time, I don't want to put the whole sport on my back. I want to be at the forefront of getting the US back to sprint dominance.

On a rivalry with Campbell: It's a friendly rivalry between Veronica and I. I really enjoy getting on the line. You always want the best eight people there. If she's not in the race, I'm wondering why Veronica is not there also. I want to get back to winning for myself. The rivalry is not the most important thing, but it is very good for the sport.

On coming back from disappointment in Beijing: What put it in perspective was my father's passing away in October. I hadn't been in a depression, but I was sad about what had happened in Beijing. When my father passed away in October, it put into perspective for me. This is just a race. It's 11 seconds and it's over. Life goes on. I'm looking forward to Berlin. I just finished my masters degree (MBA online through the University of Phoenix).

VERONICA CAMPBELL

On 2009: I had a setback with a toe injury that came out of nowhere. But it has been healing well and I'm back in training. I had my first race back in Florida. It was OK. I am staying positive and focused on the race this weekend. I will do my best and do my job.

On the status of sprinting within Jamaica and being a Jamaican sprinter: It is a great feeling. Jamaica has had a strong tradition in sprinting. After our performances at the Beijing Olympic Games, a lot of people are looking forward to Jamaica US match-ups. I'm training hard and trying to run as fast as I can.

On the 4x100 in at the 2008 Olympic Games: In the 4x1, anything is possible because there are four people in the race and the baton exchange is crucial. There was an incomplete pass. It is part of life. I put the 4x1 behind me long ago. It's unfortunate, but this is part of life.

On advice to young athletes: As I said in my book, hard work, plus faith and determination equals success. As long as you work hard, you can achieve what you want in life, no matter how long it takes.

On a rivalry with Lauryn Williams: Lauryn has always been a great competitor over the years, and one of my favorites I must say. Whenever you are in a race, there are certain people you have to be ready for. Rivalries are good for the sport because they help you push each other.

On a possible rule change to disqualifying athletes after one false start: I think that there are many instances where an athlete false starts. Some athletes false start just to get an edge. But some people false start because the way the start is implemented. It is not 100 percent the fault of the athlete when an athlete false starts. I also understand the importance of television, and false starts are not good for people watching on television because it can become boring. It's two-sided and it's up to the federation to decide.

JENN STUCZYNSKI

On how her life has changed since the Olympics: It's definitely changed locally. I notice when I go to the grocery store or get coffee, I get ready more because people notice me. I try to make sure my hair is done. With everything, it's helped with the pressure I've been dealing with after the Olympics, it teaches you to pace yourself. I just want to make sure I'm strong at season's end and not just at the beginning.

On jumping 5 meters: With the training that I've been doing and the way I've been jumping, if I can put it together on a long run (approach), I expect big things. It's all in time, and you can't rush it. I tried to rush it. It will come if I keep working at it.

On why Yelena Isinbayeva is so dominant: I think her coach said it best. It's harmony. She has it all. The speed, the strength, the height, the balance. Nothing is slow or rickety. She's been doing it for so long. It gets very frustrating, needless to say.

On the most gratifying aspect of winning a silver medal: The most gratifying thing was coming out there with the USA outfit on. When people ask me what I miss about playing other sports, I always say it's the team aspect. At the Olympics, we're all USA. It didn't depend on who was competing - if they had the USA uniform on, we were all cheering for them. It reminded me of basketball. I couldn't' tell you what a good time for the 1500 meters is, but if they had the uniform on, I was cheering for it.

On the competitive Olympic experience: A lot of people talked about the stress and the nerves. You don't really understand it until you're in it. It starts at the US Trials and then it continues. It actually starts before the Trials, with all the media questions leading up to it. When you're in it, it's hard to enjoy it sometimes. You want to do good, you want to medal. You learn to focus and keep training. It can suffocate you and close in on you. I had to learn to work past it. I am training and I'm in Churchville, New York, nobody else is around and nothing else matters. I've learned a lot about just being able to focus and handle the pressure of it.

CAROLINA KLUFT

On 2009: I'm just recovering. I'm not injured anymore but I'm trying to build up the strength in my leg. I had a stress fracture (in her left leg). I will not jump 100 percent on Saturday. I will have a shorter run-up, because I feel like I'm not ready to go 100 percent quite yet. But I want to compete and give more power in competition. It is one step forward from training. I don't have high expectations for my performance, but I have high expectations for the experience. It's my second time in New York but my first time competing.

Should women compete in the decathlon instead of heptathlon? No. Heptathlon is a great event as it is. I don't understand why we should make it any different than it is. I don't understand why it should change. Why should we change to be like the men's event? Why don't the men change to do the hepthathlon?

Will you break the world record in the heptathlon? No, I'm done with the heptathlon. I'm sure of that. I left it with joy and happiness. I left it at the right time, where I still have energy left in my career to do just one event. After that, I'm going to do a lot of other things in my life other than sport. I will always be a mutl-eventer. I will do many different things.

Will she compete in both long jump and triple jump? Not this season. I've been injured, and I think the stress from training for both of it would be too much right now. I think it's very fun to do both events (LJ and TJ). I'm hoping to pick it up but not this season.

TYSON GAY

On his history at this meet: I've competed here before but normally in the 100m dash. Of course everybody knows last year was a great race, with a world record for Usain Bolt. ... Overall, it's a great meet for the U.S. and can help make track and field even bigger.

I am looking forward to running technically sound (in the 200m) and just seeing whatever comes out of it. This is my first race and I'm just trying to get the kinks out and get into a racing environment. Mentally, I've just been trying to relax this year. There's enough pressure. I still think about racing a lot, but I've been trying to relax my mind.

What would have happened at the Olympics if Gay had been healthy? It didn't happen. I would have gone out there and done my best. What Usain Bolt did at the Olympics was amazing. I wasn't thinking about 9.69 at the Olympics. I was thinking 9.7something was going to win. He shocked me. Everybody knows I'd have needed to go 9.6something. But, I wasn't race-sharp and I wasn't ready to put it down at that time. I think I had shown I was ready to run fast, just not at that time.

On his occasionally competing in the 400m: I ran a few 400s, just to get some fitness and things like that. I know I'm capable of running fast 400s. If the opportunity opens up one day to run a 4x4 with the fast American sprinters, I would enjoy doing that.

On his 9.66 wind-aided 100m time at the 2008 Olympic Trials, the fastest time ever run: It gave me a lot of confidence. I didn't slow down toward the end of the race, and it was fast regardless. I'm looking forward to doing it (wind) legal.

On his goals for this weekend: I definitely want to win. There is no feeling in track and field like winning. Even if you don't run the time you wanted to run, it feels good to win. But moreso I want to work on my technique. I want to run a good first race and see where it takes me to.

On advice to Caribbean sprinters competing at the meet on Saturday: This meet has been real good to me. The track is fast, and the stadium is going to be packed. There are a lot of Caribbean fans in the stands, more Caribbean fans than Americans. It may be almost like a smaller Penn Relays thing, kind of Jamaica vs. US. You guys are going to have a lot of support. A LOT of support.

ASAFA POWELL

On 2009: Everything is going smooth so far. I had an ankle injury which I'd had for a while. But I'm back and I'm ready to run.

On the impact of Jamaicans' Olympic performance in their home country: Before when you'd ask people about Jamaica, they'd say Bob Marley. Now, they say Usain (Bolt). It motivates the younger kids to come out. They have talent, they just have to use it.

On how Bolt's performances have changed sprinting: It think everyone is training to run 9.6, because Usain shows it's possible. When I watch the replay of the Olympic Games, I don't look at myself. I look at Usain, and him crossing the finish line. It motivates me to train my heart out, to try to finish ahead of him or try to finish closer to him. But what he did, you have to give him credit.

RICHARD THOMPSON

On 2009: I've been having a rough season. I got into a major wreck in Trinidad and Tobago and was unable to train for a month. So I'm being patient and confident that I'll be back to where I was last year in July and August. That's when it really matters.

On how Bolt's performances have changed sprinting: I think it makes it easier for the rest of the sprinters, because Usain is the one with all the pressure on him. Everyone exepcts him to be first and everybody else second. At the same time, Usain is the benchmark for sprint. Having run 9.6, and the way he ran it, other people are working harder to get there. We aren't going to sit back and allow him to dominate the way he did last year. It's going to be interesting in years to come.

The fourth stop of USA Track & Field's 2009 Visa Championship Series, the Reebok Grand Prix will be televised live on NBC from 8:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

The Reebok Grand Prix, in its fifth year, is one of the nation's premier outdoor track & field invitational meets. Increased and upgraded backstretch seating at track level is being added to accommodate the growing demand and interest from fans in the New York area. Tickets are on sale now by phone at 1-877-TIX-TRAC or on-line at www.ReebokGrandPrix.com. USATF welcomes you to pay with your Visa.

For more information on the 2009 Visa Championship Series and the Reebok Grand Prix, visit www.VisaChampionshipSeries.com.

About USA Track & Field
USA Track & Field (USATF) is the National Governing Body for track and field, long-distance running and race walking in the United States, with oversight of programs ranging from youth track and field to selecting and managing Team USA for international competition. USATF encompasses the world's oldest organized sports, some of the most-watched events of Olympic broadcasts, the #1 high school and junior high school participatory sport and more than 30 million adult runners in the United States. For more information on USATF, visit USATF.org.

About WICT
For thirty years, Women in Cable Telecommunications (WICT) has partnered with cable and telecommunications leaders to provide leadership programs and services, and create professional advancement opportunities for women. With over 7,800 members, WICT is the oldest and largest professional association serving women in the cable and telecommunications industry.

WICT develops women leaders who transform our industry through highly regarded professional events, educational programming and networking opportunities. Comcast, Rainbow, Time Warner Cable and Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. are WICT's 2009 Strategic Partners providing the highest level of financial support for WICT programs, services and advocacy.


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