RALEIGH (North Carolina): Tyree Washington thought his career was over. Hamstring injuries made training impractical and there was the added trauma of his sister’s trial for murder.
Yet a voice, his wife’s, kept urging the one-lap runner to carry on.
After more than a year out of competition, he responded. He resumed jogging in July 2002 and began racing again during the 2003 indoor season.
“I felt left out,” Washington said. “I felt there was something missing in my life. There was a void in my life.”
There was fear, too.
“Could I be as good as I was, or would I fall off the face of the earth?” Washington, who had run 44.28 seconds in 2001, asked himself.
His decision was to find out – “to give it one last try” – to determine if he could succeed Michael Johnson in an event the United States had once dominated.
Johnson had brought the United States consecutive Olympic gold medals, four straight world titles and a world record before retiring in 2001. Yet, no American had stepped to the medals podium at the 2001 World Championships.
A year later, two Jamaicans and a speedy 400m hurdler from the Dominican Republic stood in front of the first American in the world rankings.
Washington, 26, in a season that has rekindled his earlier promise, has become the overwhelming favourite to claim the 400m title at the Paris World Championships opening this Saturday.
He has not lost a race this year, winning three times indoors and seven consecutive races outdoors.
The two fastest times in the world are his as is the gold medal from March’s Indoor World Championships.
Adding the outdoor world title would be special, Washington said, and for more reasons than providing an early birthday present.
The 400m final comes just two days before Washington turns 27, and Johnson, for one, thinks there will be much to celebrate.
“I think he should win in Paris,” Johnson told USA Today.
“No one else is running as fast or as consistent. And one other thing he has going that’s very valuable is he is by far the toughest competitor in the event.”
Washington grabbed the 400m bronze medal at the 1997 World Indoor Championships. But respiratory problems, and an unsuccessful bid to play American football, slowed his progress.
He missed making the 2000 US Olympic team and the World Championships squad for 2001.
Nothing, though, was as unsettling as the 2000 death of one of his twin nieces, 18-month-old Anjulette Levy.
Washington’s sister, Rosalyn, and her partner, Steven Levy, were convicted of first-degree murder in the child’s death and sentenced to prison in 2002.
Fortunately, Washington, a one-time gang member, said he had been able to vent the frustrations and anger of his youth in a positive direction through his athletics career.
Now that career will take him to Paris this month, and possibly to the Athens Olympics next year. – Reuters
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