WOMEN'S mistake costs U.S. a relay sweep

Monday, August 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

EDMONTON, Alberta (AP) _ Without Maurice Greene, without Michael Johnson, the U.S. men still rule the world in the relays.

If not for a disastrous mistake in Sunday's final day of competition in the World Track & Field Championships, the women probably would, too.

The United States won the men's 400- and 1,600-meter relays as the Americans finished the 10 days' competition with 19 medals, their best performance since 1995.

For the first time since 1991, the United States was not alone atop the overall medals standings. The Americans and Russians each won 19. The United States had the most golds, however, with nine, compared with Russia's six.

The 19 medals were the most for the United States since 1995.

That was little consolation to the U.S. women's 1,600 relay team, which seemed well on its way to victory Sunday when Suziann Reid, running the anchor leg, dropped the baton after taking it from Michelle Collins.

Reid wouldn't talk to reporters afterward.

``She's devastated and we're supporting her,'' Collins said. ``She has a bright future. We feel like we should have gotten the gold medal here, but these things happen. This is track and field.''

U.S. women's coach J.J. Clark said she dropped the baton as she attempted to switch it from her left to right hand.

``I think she was a little anxious and started running before she had the baton,'' he said.

Still, Americans won three of the four relays, including the women's 400 relay anchored by Marion Jones on Saturday. Jones, who won the 200 on Friday, was the only athlete to win two golds.

The U.S. men's 400 relay team withstood an emotional roller coaster of a day on Saturday, when it was disqualified after the first heat, then reinstated after judges decided Jon Drummond hadn't run out of his lane after all.

Drummond, who pulled a quadriceps muscle in Saturday's heat but staggered to make the handoff anyway, was on crutches Sunday as Mickey Grimes, a virtual unknown in sprinting, took his place on the opening leg.

Without Drummond and Greene, who strained a hamstring while winning the 100 meters a week earlier, the Americans still cruised to victory.

Dennis Mitchell, in the final race of his career, led the way with a strong third leg, and anchor Tim Montgomery ran away at the finish.

``The last two days have been sweet and sour,'' Mitchell said. ``In the end, somehow we get four guys on that track that get the job done. I appreciate the last 16 years, 17 years, I lost count. I appreciate the other three guys always getting on the track and always doing the best that they can.''

The United States won its fifth consecutive 1,600 relay title. Three of those championship teams were anchored by Johnson, but he is on the brink of retirement and was not eligible because he didn't compete in the USA Championships. He was not needed.

Antonio Pettigrew, a part of four of those five consecutive victories, ran the third leg and Angelo Taylor rebounded from a disappointing 400 hurdles to run the anchor.

``Being the United States, we are always going gave good 400- meter runners,'' Taylor said. ``Winning the relay is a team effort. It doesn't just depend upon one individual. If everybody doesn't run well, no matter who have on the anchor leg, even Michael Johnson can't go down and catch everybody.''

It was Pettigrew's final relay. He plans to compete in a few meets next year in the 400, then retire.

``I'll let the young ones carry on,'' he said. ``They'll do well.''

Maria Mutola of Mozambique, who lives and trains in Eugene, Ore., won the women's 800 in dramatic fashion, barely edging Austrian Stephanie Graf at the finish by three-hundredths of a second.

The victory makes Mutola the reigning world indoor, outdoor and Olympic champion in the event.

``To have three important titles together is very special,'' Mutola said. ``It is a dream come true.''

In what he says is his last 1,500, Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco won his third consecutive world title in the event in 3:30.68.

Afterward, he dropped to his knees and wrote something on the track with his fingers. Later, he told reporters he had written, ``I love you all.''

El Guerrouj plans to concentrate on the 5,000 from now on.

Jan Zelezny of the Czech Republic won his third world javelin title with a championship record throw of 304 feet, 5 inches.

``I'm getting older and throwing better and better,'' he said. ``I don't know when I'll stop.''

Hestrie Cloete became South Africa's first women's medalist by winning the high jump at 6-6 3/4. Romania's Lidia Simon won the women's marathon in 2:26:01.