Dragila targets gold after breaking world record

Stacy Dragila had a special treat for the dozens of family members and hometown friends, many of whom remembered her as a teenage goat-tying competitor in local rodeos, who came to watch her compete at the United States Olympic trials in Sacramento, California.

Stacy Dragila had a special treat for the dozens of family members and hometown friends, many of whom remembered her as a teenage goat-tying competitor in local rodeos, who came to watch her compete at the United States Olympic trials in Sacramento, California.

The 29-year-old from nearby Auburn produced the only world record at the trials as she cleared 4.63 metres on her second attempt on Sunday to add 1cm to the record she set in May. It also earned her a chance to win the first Olympic gold in the women's pole vault, which is being introduced as a medal event at the Sydney Games.

"It was definitely a dream come true to come home to Sacramento and have my family and friends cheer me on to Sydney," the 29-year-old former heptathlete said.

In recent years, the women's pole vault has captured the public's imagination. Oozing confidence, Dragila repeated her desire to clear 4.88m (16ft) before the Sydney Games.

"I still have a lot to work on," she said. "I have over a month to train for the games, and I think 16 feet is doable. Fifteen-five was not that high for me today, and I think 16 feet is right around the corner."

Now she goes on to Europe to face those who will be her biggest challengers in Sydney.

"To go over to Europe this next week and have three competitions against my international competitors, that's what I'm looking for," Dragila said. "I'm hungry to see them before we go to Sydney."

Dragila, who set the previous record in Mesa, Arizona, on 1 May, won the inaugural World Indoor Championship in 1997 and the first world title last year.

She knew that the stands near the pole vault pit would be filled with people who knew her. "I was nervous because I was here at home. When I got to the field and did my warm-ups, I made 15ft 5in (4.70), that's pretty danged awesome," she said. "To stay composed through the competition was all I wanted to do. And I did it and came up on top with the world record."

After soaring over the record height, Dragila had the bar raised to 4.70m, but she missed three times. Her best attempt was her second, when the bar hung up momentarily after she cleared it, but it fell when Dragila apparently nicked it on the way down.

"Why not?" she said when asked why she went for the world record again after already setting it once. "It's good for my confidence to go at it. I was out there for a long time. Those are situations we're going to be at in Sydney. I want to know what it's like to be out there for a long time and go after big jumps."

Marion Jones set the stage for an unprecedented five gold medals in Sydney with three individual wins at the trials. She survived the cut-throat championships with victories in the 100 and 200 metres plus the long jump. She will also run on the 4 x 100m and 4 x 400m relay teams.

Jones, who crashed out of the 1999 World Championship 200m semi-finals with back spasms, again appears to be the dominant woman sprinter in the world. Her 200m final produced the fastest time in the world this year of 21.94sec, with her 100m the second fastest in 10.88sec. In each event she defeated Inger Miller, the world 200 metres champion.

The Olympic high hurdles champion, Allen Johnson, appears back to his best with a year's best 12.97sec in the final, while Angelo Taylor ran animpressive 47.62sec to qualify for the 400m hurdles.

There is no place in the team for Jeff Hartwig, who no-heighted in the pole vault, or the decathlete Dan O'Brien and the Americans will be hard pressed to find any glory in the long jump, an event their men long dominated. "The rest of the world has grown up and caught up," said the American men's coach, John Chaplin.

Gail Devers, twice the Olympic champion, missed out on the 100m team but finished first in the 100m hurdles in an American record of 12.33sec.

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