The Austin Chronicle

Semidisaster for Richards, Glory for UT Stars

By Lee Nichols, June 25, 2007, 2:04pm, The Score

After a season that saw her ranked as the No. 1 female track & field athlete in the world, qualifying to represent the U.S. at this year's world championships would seem to be a mere formality for Austin's Sanya Richards. But 2007 has been different from 2006 for the UT ex: She had some virus problems this year that cut her training in half, and it showed this weekend at the USA Track & Field Championships. In her specialty, the 400 meters, Richards ran a slow homestretch and placed fourth – the worst possible position, because only the top three make the team. In addition to conditioning issues that put her about two seconds slower than her American record, a mental error put the nail in her coffin: She told the TV interviewer after the race that she thought she was in third as she headed toward the finish.

It wasn't all bad news for Richards, who ran for the Longhorns for two seasons (2003-'04) before turning pro: She recovered the next day for second place in the 200, and she will also be on the American 4x400 squad. Still, it's only partial consolation – unlike her dominant position in the 400 meters, dethroning defending champion Allyson Felix in the shorter race will be an uphill battle.

Other Austinites shone at the national championships, including two current Longhorns making their breakthrough into world-level competition.

Junior miler Leonel Manzano, a native of Marble Falls, broke his UT record in the 1,500 meters and made the U.S. team with a thrilling stretch run that saw him sweep past Olympic silver medalist Bernard Lagat into second place. His time of 3 minutes, 35.29 seconds knocked nearly two seconds off his previous best and left little doubt that he is the most accomplished miler in school history.

Austin will be well-represented in the women's high jump: The top spot went to Amy Acuff, a native of Corpus Christi who now trains here. She jumped 6 feet, 2.25 inches. Her national championship is the sixth in her storied career, and competing on national teams is nothing new for her – she has competed in the past three Olympics, including a fourth-place finish in 2004 at Athens.

Behind her in third place was the future of American high jumping: UT sophomore Destinee Hooker made her first national team by clearing 6-1 1/4, an accomplishment made even more amazing when you consider this should actually be her freshman year, but she graduated high school a semester early. (UPDATE: The San Antonio Express-News reports that Hooker, who actually attends UT on a volleyball scholarship, will not be traveling to the world championships so that she can prepare for the fall volleyball season.)

The 11th IAAF World Championships in Athletics ("athletics" is how the rest of the world refers to track & field) will be held Aug. 25-Sept. 2 in Osaka, Japan.

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