Third-place showing gives UI hurdler Olympic aspirations

Third-place showing gives UI hurdler Olympic aspirations

   DURHAM, N.C.  There will be no national championship for Sherman Armstrong this year.

   But if there were previous doubts about his Olympic candidacy, there can be none now.

   The Illinois junior finished third in the 400-meter hurdles Friday night at the NCAA Track and Field Championships. More notably, his time of 48.61 seconds ranks fifth in the world this year.

   Two of those ahead of him just happened to be in Friday''s race.

   "I told myself I''d be content as long as I ran as hard as I can and put forth my best effort," Armstrong said. "And that''s what I did today.

   "I don''t think there are too many professional cats running 48s."

   Southern Cal''s Felix Sanchez finished first in 48.41, beating defending champion Bayano Kamani of Baylor. Kamani''s 48.43 was faster than his winning 48.68 of last year.

   Armstrong bettered his own school record of 49.20 and approached the all-time Big Ten mark of 48.30  set by Jamaican Neil Gardner of Michigan in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics semifinals.

   Sanchez represents the Dominican Republic, so he won''t be a factor in July''s U.S. Olympic Trials at Sacramento, Calif. He is No. 2 in the world, trailing the 48.37 by South Africa''s Llewellyn Herbert, a 1997 world silver medalist.

   Armstrong led through seven hurdles. He was overtaken after he switched from 13 to 14 steps between hurdles.

   Perhaps the staging was too perfect.

   A week ago, Armstrong watched his brother, Shannon, win both hurdles in the Class A state meet for Chicago Luther South. That''s something Sherman never did.

   He competed before a large contingent of North Carolina relatives. His father, Sherman Armstrong Sr., was born in Booneville, N.C.

   Finally, this is the last season for Armstrong''s coach, Willie Williams. The Illini haven''t had a sprint/hurdles champion in the NCAAs since 1954, when Williams took the 100-yard dash and Joe Corley the 220 hurdles.

   Williams had one word for Armstrong''s performance: beautiful.

   "I''m satisfied with that. Yes, indeed," said Williams, whose grin was wider than the tight turns on the stadium track.

   It was the closest a Williams-coached runner had come to an NCAA title since Tim Simon was third in the 400 meters in 1988. That year, Simon finished behind Olympians Danny Everett and Steve Lewis of UCLA.

   Williams, whose retirement as associate head coach isn''t official until August, said he will work with Armstrong on taking 13 steps through all 10 hurdles. That''s the tactic employed by the legendary Edwin Moses.

   Armstrong was a little sore from Thursday''s heat of the 110 hurdles and said he didn''t feel his sharpest. He stuttered a bit at the 10th hurdle.

   "After that, I was just trying to bring it in strong," Armstrong said. "I felt those guys coming on me. I just didn''t have another gear."

   He didn''t have anything left for the 110 hurdle semifinals, either. Obviously weary, he was disqualified by a false start.

   In Thursday''s semifinals, Armstrong clocked 13.75, breaking the school record of 13.78 set by John Elliot in 1987.

   It has been a record-breaking week for Illini hurdlers.

   Perdita Felicien qualified for today''s finals in the women''s 100s by finishing second in her semifinal in 12.99. Big Ten champion Donica Merriman of Ohio State won with a 12.83.

   Felicien, a Canadian Olympic hopeful, clocked 12.91 in Thursday''s first round. That broke the school record of 13.00 set by Dawn Riley in 1996 and is thought to be the fastest ever by a collegiate freshman.

   The Illini, with Felicien on the second leg, finished fifth in the 400 relay in 44.32. They were seeded 10th heading into the meet.

   Other legs were run by Chequetta Bearfield, Lyria Martin and Kerry Ann Richards.

   In the women''s shot put, St. Joseph-Ogden''s Jennifer Brown was 21st at 46 feet, 8 inches for Indiana.

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