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National Champions lead US team into World Youth Championships

National Champions lead US team into inaugural World Youth Championships
Courtesy of USATF Press Office

More than 50 of America's best 15-, 16- and 17-year-old track and field athletes will compete at the inaugural IAAF World Youth Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland, from July 16-18.

Athletes were selected for the team based on their placings at the 1998 National Junior Olympics and Youth Athletics Nationals, and many of them added national titles this season. Thirteen U.S. team members captured golds at the Youth Athletics Nationals in Edwardsville from June 30-July 4, including three double winners.

Here's a capsule look at the American team for Bydgoszcz:

Sprints/Hurdles: Bryan Sears (Midway, GA) and Duriel Laird (Bossier City, LA) are more than familiar with the top of the victory stand, and the pair will lead the U.S. sprint squad in the 100 and 200. Sears won the 200 at the past two Georgia 4A state meets and should be in the medal hunt at that distance. Laird captured Louisiana gold in the 100, 200 and 4x100 to lead his team to a state championship this year.

Hopes in the 400 are high, too, with Travon Walton (Chino, CA) and Ivory McCann (Houston, TX) carrying the flag. Walton, the California state bronze medalist, was sixth in the Junior Nationals 400 and won his semi with a personal best 47.09 clocking. McCann did the 100/400 double at the Youth Nationals and looked in top form. He has a PR of 47.34.

Brandon Royster (Fairfax, VA) is a multi-talented athlete who will compete in the 110-meter hurdles and long jump. His best in the hurdles is 14.27. Joshua Walker (Stone Mountain, GA) was runner-up in the Georgia 4A 110H and placed third in the 300H.

Intermediate hurdlers Brian Hickman (Houston, TX) and Gerren Crochet (Boulder, CO) have experience over the 400-meter distance, with Hickman sporting the better PR at 53.85.

Middle/Long Distance: In the 800, Clark Payne (Atlanta, GA) and Shannon Hughes (Suitland, MD) will face a tough battle. Payne is a national Junior Olympics champion who has good range from 400-1500 meters, while Hughes was a national runner-up to Payne in Junior Olympic competition.

Minnesota's Nick Schneider (Victoria, MN) was fifth in the state AA 1600 and fourth in the 3200 earlier this year, and could drop under the 4:00 barrier at this meet. Jared Scott (Monument, CO) won his state's 800 title for Lewis-Palmer High School, and also nabbed cross country gold. He will tackle the 1500, where his speed could help him advance.

Christopher Clancy (Portland, OR) moves up a distance to the 3000 after taking third in the state 1500, while Scott Sebens (Oak Harbor, WA) will be the lone U.S. runner in the 2000-meter steeplechase. Sebens was the '98 National JO champ in that event and lists fly fishing and piano playing among his off-track activities.

Jumps: A very strong event area for the Americans, with medal contenders in every event. Kyle Odvody (Malmo, NE) set a Nebraska state Class B high jump record with his 7-0 clearance this year. Teammate Derek Poynter (Albuquerque, NM) went undefeated in the high jump and triple jump in New Mexico this season.

Pole vaulters Sage Thames (Wolfforth, TX) and Paul Gensic (Ft. Wayne, IN) are medal contenders in their first international outing. Thames won the Texas 4A state crown and has a best of 16-7, while Gensic was the Indiana state silver medallist.

Brandon Royster, also an entrant in the 110H, has solid credentials in the long jump, sporting a 24-0 best in '99. He will be joined by Jonathan Lott (Lemoore, CA), a Cal State Games gold medallist and standout football player for King's Christian High School.

Triple jumper Allen Simms (Lanham, MD) has improved by leaps and bounds, so to speak, in 1999 and has moved into position as a medal contender. Simms won Maryland state gold in the long jump and triple jump and has a best of 49-11. Jason Arce (El Paso, TX) will look to gain valuable experience after winning Junior Olympics gold in '98.

Throws: If size counts for anything in these events, the Americans will be tough to beat. Beefy strongmen Dan Taylor (Middlefield, OH) and Rusty Price (Snelling, CA) will fly the flag in the shot put, with Taylor and Michael Leconte (South Portland, ME) tagging in the discus. Taylor won

Ohio State gold in the discus, and Price is a multiple winner in USATF Youth and JO competition. Leconte is a two-time Maine champion in the shot, and at 275 pounds is the lightest of the three U.S. titans.

Justin McKnight (Reedsville, PA) and Jason Koch (Madison, WI) are the American entries in the javelin. McKnight won the Pennsylvania AAA title this year, and Koch is the top schoolboy javelin thrower in Wisconsin.

Sprints/Hurdles: Speed to burn is the name of the game for the U.S. contingent here, with medal contenders aplenty. Khalilah Carpenter (Columbus, OH) and LaShauntea Moore (Akron, OH) should give people fits in the 100 and 200, as well as on the relays. Carpenter has bests of 11.72 and 23.81, while Moore has clocked 11.90 and 23.83.

Monique Henderson (Bonita, CA) is the wunderkind of the year after winning U.S. Junior gold in the 400 with a stunning 51.96 clocking, beating '98 World Junior silver medallist Nakiya Johnson. Henderson also topped Johnson for the California state title. Christy Fairley (Lucedale, MS) is the brightest star to come out of Mississippi in years, having already won 18 state golds in the 100, 200 and 400. She was featured in Sports Illustrated's "Faces in the Crowd" as an eighth-grader, and has run the one-lapper in 54.34.

Four-gold star Ginnie Powell (Seattle, WA) leads the way in the sprint hurdles after winning state titles in the 100, 100H, 300H and 4x100 this season. Her best of 14.11 was set in 1998. Elmetta Johnson (Colorado Springs, CO) is equally talented, nabbing state crowns in the 100H and 200.

She clocked a PR 14.21 last year. Long hurdles hopes rest with Texas 5A 300H champ Raasin McIntosh (Missouri City, TX) and Janine Jones (Newport News, VA), a talented middle distance ace who clocked 2:12.34 to grab third in the 800 at the Virginia state meet. McIntosh turned in a 61.02 at the Junior nationals and is ready to crack the 60-second barrier.

Middle/Long Distance: Half-mile hopes rest on the capable shoulders of Robin Mortel (Brooklyn, NY), the New York Class A champ with a personal best of 2:10.67. Idaho state 800 champ Jenny Liou (Moscow, ID) moves up to the 1500, an event in which she won JO gold in '98.

Jinny Hanifan (Waterville, OH) was runner-up in the Ohio state Division I 3200 this year and tops the U.S. 3000 entries. Katherine Hartmann (Woodstock, IL) was a finalist in the always-tough Illinois Class AA 3200 as a freshman and placed fifth in the Foot Locker cross country championships.

Jumps: Alabama state 6A champion Kaylah Burks (Mobile, AL) and Texas model Na'Tassia Vice (Mesquite, TX) have both cleared 5-8 this year. In addition to her jump skills, Vice models for the Page Parkes agency in Dallas.

Women's pole vaulting is the hottest event on the field this year, and a pair of up-and-comers will wear the red, white and blue. Washington state runner-up Jennifer Gregorak (Spokane, WA) and Wisconsin's Angela Hilgers (Wisconsin Rapids, WI) can stake claim to pioneer status, with Hilgers scoring varsity points for her school's boys' team in the vault.

Pennsylvania state 3A champ Talise Manuel (Pittsburgh, PA) and Washington 3A winner Jill Bell (Bellevue, WA) are both mid-19-foot performers who could sneak into the long jump medal picture. Florida 6A triple jump silver medallist Eboni Gibson (Miami, FL) is the top American in the hop, step and jump, with Oregon multi-event star Maranda Brownson (Yoncalla, OR) hoping to move up a level in this event. Brownson, a bright young star on the heptathlon scene, was a one-woman wrecking machine at the Oregon state meet, claiming gold in the 2A 100H, 100, 200 and long jump.

Throws: Nebraska wins honours as the top state for throwers here, producing both entrants in the shot and one in the discus. Lisa Beachler (Oakland, NE) won state Class A titles in the shot and discus this season and has a shot best of 46-9. She is also a five-time American record holder in

powerlifting and sports a perfect grade point average. Emily Duran (Nebraska City, NE) nabbed state Class B honors in the shot and discus, and will compete in both events here. Joining her on the discus squad is Melissa Bickett (Akron, OH), runner-up in the shot and discus at the Ohio Division II state meet. Bickett also ran leadoff for her school's 4x100 relay team and is a talented trumpet player.

Leslie Erickson (Lacey, WA) is one of the world's best young javelin throwers and has definite medal potential. She won the Washington state 4A title this year and has a best of 170-6.

Relays: Two athletes of interest are on the squad for relay duty - Houston (TX) Westbury High School team-mates Ashley Mitchell and Stephanie Durst. Westbury has been atop the Texas relay rankings in recent years, and this duo will join hurdler Raasin McIntosh, another Westbury runner, as the U.S. seeks gold in the 4x100 and sprint medley.

For a complete list ofl entrants check out USATF on the web: http://www.usatf.org/