Sisters in lore race to fulfil family dream

Sydney 2000

The number of the new house Hazel Clark has bought in Gainesville, Florida, is 123. Tonight, on the eighth day of the United States track and field trials in Sacramento, she will be one-third of the family team chasing a unique1-2-3 in the final of the women's 800m. Having sailed through the semi-finals in the Hornet Stadium on Friday night, Hazel, her sister Joetta Clark-Diggs, and their sister-in-law Jearl Miles-Clark are on course for a clean sweep of Olympic team places.

The number of the new house Hazel Clark has bought in Gainesville, Florida, is 123. Tonight, on the eighth day of the United States track and field trials in Sacramento, she will be one-third of the family team chasing a unique1-2-3 in the final of the women's 800m. Having sailed through the semi-finals in the Hornet Stadium on Friday night, Hazel, her sister Joetta Clark-Diggs, and their sister-in-law Jearl Miles-Clark are on course for a clean sweep of Olympic team places.

The feat has never been achieved before and, judging by the impressive form they displayed on Friday, the Clarks are capable of running their way into the record books. Hazel, 22, eased to victory in the opening semi in 2min 01.58sec. And Jearl, 33, won the second in 2:02.80 with the veteran Joetta, 37, a comfortable qualifier in third place.

"It looks good for the final," Joetta said. "We're trying to go 1-2-3and the fans seem to want the Clark family to do it."

If the Clark family do succeed in their hat-trick mission it will also be a personal triumph for another member of the family team. The track racing trio are all coached by JJ Clark, the 35-year-old brother of Hazel and Joetta and husband of Jearl. "It's exciting for JJ and exciting for the three of us," Hazel said. "We train together. We push each other on. I just hope we can make it to the Olympics together."

Hazel, the rising star of the group, has yet to make an Olympic appearance but Joetta ran for the United States in Seoul in 1988, in Barcelona in 1992 and in Atlanta four years ago. Jearl has gone one better, making it on to the medal rostrum in Barcelona, as a member of the second-placed US 4 x 400m relay team, and in Atlanta, as the woman who anchored the American quartet to victory. She is also a former world champion - having won the 400m in Stuttgart in 1993 - and holds the US 800m record, 1:56.40.

She is not, however, the most celebrated member of the Clark clan. Joe Clark - father of Hazel, Joetta and JJ, and father-in-law of Jearl - is the disciplinarian high school principal Morgan Freeman portrayed in the Hollywood movie Lean On Me. A 1-2-3 in Sacramento tonight and the Clarks just might have another film deal on their hands.

The twin powers

The tale of the Harrison twins might also make film script material. Five years ago Alvin and Calvin Harrison were homeless. They lived in an old Ford Mustang. After their impressive performances in the 400m final in Sacramento last Sunday, though, like the Clark family, they are standing on the threshold of Olympic history. They could be the first twins to run in the same relay team at the Games.

Alvin secured his place in the US relay squad, and in the individual 400m, as runner-up to Michael Johnson. And Calvin earned an invitation to the Olympic team's training camp in Brisbane by finishing in fifth place. More than likely, he will run in the early rounds in Sydney, if not in the final, in which Alvin was a member of the gold-winning United States team four years ago.

Though no longer homeless, the Harrisons have still endured tough times since those Atlanta Games. Their sister, Africa, was murdered later that year. Their grandmother, who was largely responsible for raising them, died last year. And Calvin has suffered from paralysis of the feet. "Every time we tried to pick ourselves up, there was something else pushing us down," Alvin said. "We've just tried to hang in there. It would be great if we could run together in the relay final inSydney."

The twin impostor

It would have been great for Madeline de Jesus if she had run in the women's 4 x 400m relay final in the Los Angeles Games in 1984. She was getting ready to do so when it was discovered that she had not actually been Puerto Rico's second leg runner in the qualifying heats. She had injured herself in the long jump and asked her twin sister to take her place. The trouble was Margaret de Jesus was not a member of the Puerto Rican team. She was in Los Angeles as a spectator.

When the deception came to light, Puerto Rico's head coach refused to allow the recovered Madeline and the rest of the relay team to run in the final. All because of the impostor twin.

The lone protester

Wayne Collett ran into trouble at the 1972 Games in Munich when he and Vince Matthews, respectively second and first in the 400m final, pointedly refused to stand to attention at the medal ceremony, chatting and fidgeting throughout the playing of "The Star Spangled Banner". "I couldn't stand there and sing the words because I don't believe they're true," Collett said.

He was subsequently banned from competition by the International Olympic Committee but he will have a family interest in events on the Olympic track in Sydney in September. Regina Jacobs, winner of the 1500m and 5,000m in Sacramento (improving her US record to 14min 45.35sec in the final of the latter event on Friday night), is a cousin of the contemptuous Collett.

Literary heights

And finally... Matt Hemingway has no high-class track and field pedigree in his family. He does have literary lineage, though. The favourite for the high jump final in Sacramento tonight is a distantrelative of Ernest Hemingway. Ifhe fails to clear the opening height, ask not for whom the bar rolls.

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