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America's great hope in 1,500 has early exit

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ATHENS, Greece (AP) _ Alan Webb, who was supposed to end America's streak of mediocrity in middle-distance races, got outmaneuvered and outrun as he failed to make it out of the preliminary round in the 1,500 meters.

Trying to end a 36-year U.S. drought in the Olympic 1,500, Webb finished ninth in his heat Friday. Twenty-four runners advanced, and Webb had the 25th-fastest time.

He missed qualifying by .11 seconds.

Webb, 21, running in the slowest of the three heats, finished in 3 minutes, 41.25 seconds. He was stuck in the middle of the field for most of the race, and faded on the final stretch.

Webb was unable to break out of the pack by looping outside. When he tried to break through the pack, he got jostled.

``It was like a football game,'' Webb said after the race, blood running down his lower right leg. He said he got spiked 200 meters into the race.

Webb said he should have been in front or near the lead but wasn't aggressive enough. ``A stupid race, stupid,'' he said.

Expectations have been high for Webb since 2001, when as a senior at South Lakes High School in Reston, Va., he broke the prep record for the mile that had been held for 36 years by Jim Ryun.

The last American to win an Olympic medal in the 1,500 was, in fact, Ryun, now a Kansas congressman, who earned a silver in 1968.

Earlier Friday, a U.S. women's sprinting corps missing some of its biggest names got off to a strong start on the first day of Olympic track competition, with three Americans _ including 37-year-old Gail Devers _ advancing from their preliminary heats in the 100 meters.

Lauryn Williams, the 20-year-old NCAA champion from Miami, was fastest in her heat in 11.16 seconds. U.S. champion LaTasha Colander slowed at the end but still won her heat in 11.31. And Devers, who won this event at the 1992 and 1996 games, advanced by placing third in her heat in 11.29.

``I feel good. I was just nervous. I shouldn't have watched the race right before mine,'' Williams said. ``Those were fast times. Oh, my goodness! It's very fast and they're only running the first rounds.''

Gold-medal favorite Christine Arron of France eased to second place in her heat in 11.14, while Bulgaria's Ivet Lalova _ fastest in the world this year at 10.77 _ won her heat in 11.16. The best time of the first round was 10.94 by Yuliya Nesterenko of Belarus.

U.S. Olympic trials triple jump champion Melvin Lister failed to make the finals in the event. Lister, who had the world-leading mark of 58 feet, 4 inches (7.78 meters) entering the competition, was 18th in the preliminary round at 54-7 1/4 (16.64). The top 12 advance.

U.S. men's coach George Williams has said that Lister was hit hard by the news that his training partner, Robert Howard, had died in a murder-suicide. Police said Howard killed his wife then jumped to his death from a medical school dormitory in Little Rock, Ark., last Saturday.

Lister's U.S. teammates, Kenta Bell and Walter Davis, made it to Sunday night's finals. They finished 10th and 11th, respectively.

Women from war-torn Aghanistan and Iraq competed in the 100. Robina Muqimyar of Afghanistan, dressed in long running pants but wearing no head scarf, was seventh in her heat at 14.14 seconds, beating Fartun Omar Abukar of Somalia. Alaa Jassim of Iraq was last in her heat at 12.70 seconds.

Omid Marban, a 20-year-old man who apears on a television show in Kabul called ``Good Morning Afghanistan,'' said Muqimyar's performance would not be a popular one in that country.

``The majority of people in Afghanistan do not like Afghan women to run outside with some 20,000 people watching her,'' he said. ``But she was wearing long trousers. That means she did respect her people, even though she did not have a scarf. For me, that's OK, but there are some people who do not like her.''

Also advancing to the second round were Veronica Campbell and Aleen Bailey of Jamaica, Ukraine's Zhanna Block and 44-year-old Merlene Ottey, who is running in her seventh Olympics. The Jamaican native, now running for Slovenia, has eight Olympic medals.

Missing were defending champion Marion Jones, world champion Torri Edwards, Kelli White and Chryste Gaines. Edwards and White are serving drug suspensions. Jones and Gaines did not qualify. Jones is under investigation by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency and Gaines has been charged by USADA with steroid use. Both claim they never used performance-enhancing substances.

After the morning's two events in the heptathlon, reigning world champion Carolina Kluft of Sweden led with 2,212 points. Karin Ruckstuhl of the Netherlands and Kelly Sotherton of Britain were tied for second at 2,100.

Competition began under a blazing sun Friday morning with the men's 20-kilometer walk.

Ivano Brugnetti of Italy won in a personal-best 1 hour, 19 minutes, 39 seconds, finishing five seconds ahead of Francisco Fernandez of Spain. Nathan Deakes of Australia took the bronze. Favorite Jefferson Perez of Ecuador _ the event's world record holder, 2003 world champion and 1996 Olympic gold medalist _ was fourth.

Friday's night session was to feature 22-year-old Ethiopian Kenenisa Bekele in the 10,000 meters. Next week, he'll go in the 5,000, attempting to complete a distance-running double that even his famous countryman Haile Gebrselassie never accomplished.

The quest is a reasonable one, since Bekele broke Gebrselassie's world records in both events in a nine-day span this spring.

Gebrselassie will run in the 10,000, too, seeking a third consecutive Olympic title in the event despite an Achilles' tendon injury.

``I was very close to pulling out,'' said Gebrselassie, who is attempting to become the first athlete to win the same running event at three Olympics. ``Even if I am not doing very well, I feel I need to be there. I will try to do my best. Top three would be really great.''
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