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Olympics Echo at World Track Championships in Athens

When athletes in the centuries-old sport of track and field converged on Athens during the past nine days, it was for the purpose of holding just the sixth biennial world championship. For many years, the Olympics basically served the same purpose. And on this occasion, talk of the Games, past and future, was the underlying theme.

The stars of last summer's Olympics were the natural protagonists of the unfolding athletic drama. Athens, as a candidate city to host the 2004 Olympics, is at center stage of a fierce, five-city race to win the bid. (The winner will be announced Sept. 5.)

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First-day attendance woes dealt the organizers an early setback. Insufficient promotion and bad organization were cited as causes of the empty seats. Attendance picked up thereafter as the meet hit its stride, and the runners with it.

The United States reasserted its sprint dominance. Maurice Greene and Marion Jones swept the men's and women's 100 meters. Michael Johnson, meanwhile, recovered from several post-Olympic disappointments to win the 400 meters. Despite missing the national championships with an injury, Johnson was among the many defending champions granted newly created wild-card berths.

In the 4x100-meter relays, the women's team won a gold medal while the men's team fumbled a handoff and failed to make the final.

Australian Cathy Freeman, an Aborigine, won the women's 400 meters to establish herself as a major hope for the 2000 Sydney Olympics; Tomas Dvorak of the Czech Republic took the decathlon in the absence of injured Dan O'Brien; javelin thrower Marius Corbett became South Africa's first-ever track world champion; venerable Jamaican Merlene Ottey, finishing seventh, saw her frustrations continue in the 100; Ukrainian shot putter Aleksandr Bagach sank his event's reputation ever lower by testing positive for drugs and losing his gold medal; and Ethiopia's Haile Gebrselassie won his third straight 10,000-meter title.

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