Croghan Makes Olympics, Son Improves

Friday, July 21st 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Mark Croghan is headed to the Olympic Games for the third time, but a brief journey his 10-month-old son took in a stroller outside a hospital meant just as much, maybe more.

Croghan finished second to two-time defending national champion Pascal Dobert in a stirring duel in the 3,000-meter steeplechase Thursday night as the U.S. Olympic track and field trials resumed following a two-day break.

For six weeks, Croghan's son Griffin has been in a Cleveland children's hospital. He has had two open-heart surgeries and had a stroke after the first.

A pacemaker was installed in the latest surgery, and the child has greatly improved.

``He's doing very well,'' Croghan said. ``He's had a good week. He went out in a stroller today. It's tough, but the fact that he started to turn things around just before I came here helped.''

Croghan led most of the race before Dobert overtook him down the stretch to win his third consecutive national title. Dobert won in 8 minutes, 15.77 seconds. Croghan was second in 8:16.20.

The stretch run was crucial to Dobert.

``I wanted to keep my streak going and win a third in a row, and make a statement that it's more important to win the race, as opposed to just making the team,'' he said.

Four-time Olympian Johnny Gray bid farewell to the sport with a last-place finish in a preliminary heat of the 800 meters, an event where his American record has stood for 15 years.

``I quit,'' the 40-year-old Gray said. ``I'm officially retired. I'm ready to go to Masters tomorrow. You'll never see Johnny Gray line up at this stage of competition again.''

He said he knew he was going to quit before he lined up to race, and gave up for good with 300 meters to go after leading for the first 500 meters.

``I don't want to sound like I was quitting, but I knew I wasn't at the top level I need to be, and there was nothing I could do,'' he said. ``I don't want to go through the struggle of advancing. I didn't want to go through the struggle of getting ready to race tomorrow.''

Afterwards, he waved to the cheering capacity crowd and took a reverse victory lap.

``That felt better than my American record,'' he said of that final lap. ``That was the best race of my life.''

He tossed the shoes he wore in winning last year's Pan American Games into the stands.

In Thursday night's only other final, Breax Greer won the men's javelin at 266 feet, three feet short of the Olympic ``A'' qualifying standard. He will qualify for the Olympics if no other U.S. thrower makes the 269-0 standard before Sept. 11.

With 1996 Olympic champion Dan O'Brien out with a foot injury, two-time defending national champion Chris Huffins held a 112-point lead over Tom Pappas halfway through the decathlon.

Huffins, 30, said it's a two-man fight for the championship, but with the top three making it to the Olympics, the pressure isn't so great.

``I feel pretty comfortable about making this team,'' Huffins said. ``With the two of us, it's going to come down to who is as close to his best as possible tomorrow.''

At just 23, Pappas brings some young blood that he believes the decathlon needs.

``Dan's got to retire sometime, I don't know when that will be,'' Pappas said, ``but there's definitely got to be some younger guys step up and try to help promote the sport. Hopefully I'll be one of those guys.''