When the starter’s gun sounds Saturday on the 2006 European high school track season, there will be an enormous gap atop the girls distance field and an enormous logjam of talent in the corresponding boys events.

Charity Williams of Naples, runaway winner last May in the European 800, 1,500 and 3,000-meter runs and the three-time European 1,500 champion, is spending her senior season in the States, opening the way to others.

In the boys field at the same distances, European champion Greg Billington of Lakenheath will return to again battle the distance stars he defeated for the European cross-country title in October: 1,500-meter king Sam Dickinson of Frankfurt International School, and 3,000-meter champion Danny Edwards and bronze-medalist Noah Sheppard, both of Ramstein. Dickinson and Edwards are the only boys 2005 gold medalists back for another run.

Candidates to succeed Williams will come from all over the continent, with Kaiserslautern’s European cross-country champion Colleen Smith leading the field at 3,000, along with Mannheim’s Beth Johnston, Ramstein’s Lorraine Tucker and Wiesbaden’s Ashleigh Spencer.

Smith, however, won’t have the benefit of being pushed along by her cross-country teammates, sisters Anna and Joy Hrushka — they’re playing soccer. And Smith will also have to deal with Kaiserslautern’s limited facilities.

“We don’t have a track,” said K-town coach Marty Kollar as his team prepared to bus to Kaiserslautern University for the twice-weekly practices his team is permitted there.

Underlining his team’s plight, he pointed to a stack of landing pads piled against the wall of the gym. “That’s where we work on the high jump,” he said.

Other disciplines seem wide open to athletes of both sexes, with the exception of the boys weight-throwing events, in which Heidelberg’s ever-improving Brandon Simmons seems poised for double gold as a successor to Ansbach’s graduated Mike Ewing in the shot and Russell Bailey in the discus.

In the other field events, the Hohenfels duo of B.J. Denson and Jason Parks, second and third, respectively, return in the high jump, but the top five 2005 finishers in the triple jump have departed, along with the top two in the long jump. Look for London Central’s Antony Thomas to move up in that event.

In the sprints, the top five in the 100 and 200 meters are no longer around, and with football speedsters Stephen Washington of Hohenfels playing soccer and Malcolm Lane of Hanau devoting his spring to training for college, these are anybody’s races.

Returning girls champs are rare birds, too. Jazmine Miller of AFNORTH will defend her 400 crown, as will Lynndsey Hyter of Kaiserslautern in the 300 hurdles, Rachel Chestnut of Black Forest Academy in the high jump, and Naples’ Michelle Brown, who won the 100 hurdles and long jump last season.

Heidelberg’s 100-meter champion Deandra Rogers also returns this season, which begins at four sites Saturday: Ansbach, Brussels, Ramstein and Wiesbaden.

With the departure of Williams, who was closing in on the DODDS 800 record of 2 minutes, 17.60 seconds, the DODDS record book looks relatively safe, with only Hanau’s Brown establishing enough of a track record to challenge any marks. Brown ran a 15.90 in the 100 hurdles last season, a half-second off the record of 15.40 set by Hahn’s Drisana McDaniel in 1993.

The best chance for a boys record should come in the 1,500 in the European championships, in which Dickinson, Billington and Edwards could push one another toward the 3:55.10 of Baumholder’s Rick Jaster in 1986. Dickinson ran 4:05.48 to win the event last May, but as all three showed in their cross-country race, that was just the beginning of an extended battle.

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