SACRAMENTO (California): With so much focus on doping scandal and American athletes facing drug bans, its almost as if people were coming here to see a doping hearing in case a track meet breaks out.
Doping questions will linger over the United States Olympic Athletics Trials that begin here today, but eight days of competition through July 18 also will showcase rising contenders and top stars seeking berths at the Athens Games.
In the same region where 19th century prospectors created a gold rush, stars such as Maurice Greene, Marion Jones, Gail Devers, Allen Johnson and Stacy Dragila face a turning point in their quest for Olympic gold.
Im just looking to come out here and win, make the Olympic team and go to the Olympics, said reigning Olympic 100m champion Greene.
Since the previously undetectable steroid tetrahydrogestrinone (THG) was discovered nine months ago, a doping scandal has rocked American athletics.
Tim Montgomery, the 100m world record-holder, is joined by Michelle Collins, Chryste Gaines and Alvin Harrison in fighting doping charges with lifetime bans while Regina Jacobs and Calvin Harrison are appealing after positive doping tests. All six are entered in the trials seeking a place at Athens.
The US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) have imposed suspensions upon world 100m and 200m champion Kelli White, hammer throwers John McEwen and Melissa Price and shot-putter Kevin Toth as a result of investigations and retroactive tests.
Jones, who won five medals at the Sydney Games, is being investigated by USADA. Jones faces no charges and has denied any wrongdoing as she tries to qualify for defending her 100m and 200m Olympic crowns.
Things are going well in terms of preparation, Jones said. I started slower than I would like but Im on track.
Jones was a disappointing fifth at the Preforntaine Classic last month and will be tested in the 100m by collegiate star Lauryn Williams, whose 10.97 is this years American best, and world champion Torri Edwards.
Gaines, Devers and Inger Miller figure to challenge Jones in the sprints while Grace Upshaw, who shone last season when Jones was out having a baby, could challenge in the long jump.
Three-time world 100m champion Greene ranks third in the world this year at 9.93, but was beaten in the Prefontaine meet by Shawn Crawford, whose 9.88 is this years world best. John Capel is a 100m and 200m threat as well.
Montgomery has struggled in vain to match his 100m world record 9.78 from 2002 in Paris and has yet to crack 10 seconds this year.
Devers, 37, won the 1992 and 1996 Olympic 100m titles and could become only the second American woman to compete in five Olympics with the 100m hurdles her likeliest hope.
Johnson, 33, is a four-time world 110m hurdles champion who won the 1976 Olympic crown. He will be tested by Terrence Trammell, the 2000 Olympic runner-up, and Larry Wade.
Dragila, the reigning Olympic womens pole vault champion, dominates US foes and will be going after the newly raised world record here and in Athens.
Tyree Washington, last years top-ranked 400m runner, will be a favourite but must hold off young talent while Alan Webb, a prep prodigy now 21, should excel at 1,500m.
Crawford and Williams could lead a sprint revolution that also includes 19-year-old Sanya Richards at 400m. AFP