Athletes competing towards next year’s Summer Olympics
In one year, the world’s attention will be on Beijing, host city of the Summer Olympics. But for many athletes, the quest for glory in China begins in Indianapolis at the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships being held at Lewis Carroll Stadium on the campus of IUPUI June 20-24.
The event is the last stop of the Visa Championship Series and also serves as a qualifier for the 2007 IAAF World Championships, a precursor to the Summer Olympic Games.
Indianapolis hosted the Outdoor Championships in 2006, drawing over 33,000 spectators and creating national headlines when 100-meter winners Justin Gatlin and Marion Jones faced doping accusations while competing in Indianapolis. Neither athlete is returning this year to defend their titles.
The shadow of those accusations leaves the championships without two familiar names. But it also creates room for a new push behind cleaning up the sport.
Track and field great Carl Lewis, who qualified in Indianapolis for the 1988 Olympics, returns to town in the role of sports manager, bringing his experience to young runners he believes have the potential to compete at the international level. Lewis is also the man who lost the 1988 Olympic 100-meter dash to Ben Johnson before Johnson tested positive for doping. At a time when steroids are a dominant theme in track and field, Lewis is critical of how runners are responding to and removing steroids from competition.
“I don’t think that the athletes themselves have taken on the drug problem enough. The powers that be are trying to stop it but the athletes have to want it out of their sport. I know they want it, but it’s one thing to want it and another to do something,” Lewis said.
The 100’s front-runner this year is Tyson Gay, who has already come close to breaking the world record. On the women’s side, Indiana University alum Rachelle Boone-Smith is part of a tough field. Outside of the 100, there is less controversy but just as much excitement.
A marquee event this year is the 400-meter race, with strong competitors in the men’s and women’s races. Jeremy Warner and Sanya Richards both completed undefeated 2006 seasons and will push for outdoor gold on Saturday.
Other events deserving attention are decathlon and heptathlon where incumbent champ Tom Pappas faces reigning world champion Bryan Clay. On the women’s side, GiGi Johnson looks to repeat in the heptathlon.
Though he’s returning to Indianapolis as a coach and mentor, Carl Lewis is also excited about being a spectator at this year’s championships.
“I look forward to seeing somebody that excites me because that’s what it’s about,” Lewis said. “It’s not only about who ran the fast time but who’s exciting. Hopefully, we can build some people that are exciting and the public will come to see them no matter what event they’re in.”