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European edition, Friday, May 18, 2007

The venue is new but the top stories should be pretty much the same on Friday when the European track and field championships open a two-day run at the Russelsheim city stadium.

Remodeling plans forced the meet to move from the Wiesbaden site used the past few years, according to meet director Tom Richards.

“[The] city track stadium is going to be renovated to host the Division II German soccer team from Wehen,” Richards wrote in an e-mail. “[The Russelsheim] stadium is larger, with nicer facilities, and the sports office in Russelsheim was very excited to be able to offer this facility to us.”

Not that the shift should bother the two athletes heavily favored to defend their multiple titles this weekend: Colleen Smith of Kaiserslautern and Greg Billington of Lakenheath.

Like Billington, Smith, a sophomore, is a two-time big schools cross-country champion. Last May, she struck gold in the 800 (2 minutes, 27.35 seconds), 1,500 (4:57.05) and 3,000 (10:43.08) in her first try at Europeans, run under less than ideal conditions. Smith has posted the best times in each event so far this season.

Billington, a senior, spent the summer between his gold-medal 1,500 (4:01.82) and 3,000 (8:58.30) runs at Europeans competing for the U.S. junior national triathlon team in the Ironman World Championships in Switzerland. With his eye on the DODDS-Europe 3,000 record of 8:36.90 run in 1986 by Rick Jaster of Baumholder, Billington posted an 8:44.30 in rain and wind on Saturday in Bedford, England.

Billington also holds a season-best time in the 1,500 (4:03.01), and his top time in the 800, an event Lakenheath coach Lakeisha Jones hasn’t yet ruled out for her star, is 2:02.30. That’s second only to the 1:57.52 run by defending champion Kyle Southard of Ramstein on April 28.

As Würzburg coach Eric Mead wrote in an e-mail about Smith and Billington: “At our level it is not too often that we get to see athletes of their caliber.”

In addition to the distance stars, seven athletes have a shot at repeat gold this weekend. However, one of them, 100-meter hurdles champion Audrey Fahrney of Munich International School, was an uncertain participant at press time because of academic commitments.

And even if she makes it, she’ll have to dig deep to repeat. No fewer than nine hurdlers hold better times than Fahrney this season, and seven of those, including four from Ansbach, have posted times that would have beaten Fahrney’s winning mark in 2006, 17.22.

The other athletes with shots at repeat gold include Jessica Blanks of Heidelberg in the shot put, Aaron Ellison of Hanau in the 200 and 400, Southard in the 800, Sung Byon of Hohenfels in the 300 hurdles, Michael Walker of Wiesbaden in the long jump and Donald Bryant of Würzburg in the triple jump.

Many of them, however, find themselves in the same situation as Fahrney when it comes to repeating.

Blanks, for example, has seen her best throw of 2007, 35 feet, 2.25 inches, eclipsed by her sister, Deandra Rogers, the 2005 champion. Rodgers posted a season-best 37 feet 5 inches last Saturday in Baumholder.

Ellison will be pushed in the 200 by B.J. Harvey of Würzburg, freshman Jamal Grant of Vilseck and sophomore Chris Frazier of Heidelberg. All have run under 23 seconds this season.

There’s a little more separation in the 400, where both Ellison and Grant have broken 51 seconds this season, with the rest of the field over 52.

Byon battled injuries this season, and his best time so far (42.01) has been surpassed by Courtney Edwards of Würzburg, who ran 41.92 on April 28.

Edwards, a freshman, also holds the second-best time this season in the 110 high hurdles, one of the most technical of the track events. He clocked 15.70 on May 5, a season-best until Ansbach junior John Willis ran 15.51 last Saturday.

“We’ve had some great performances by ninth-graders this year,” Würzburg coach Mead wrote.

Not content with unleashing Smith as the unbeatable freshman last year, Kaiserslautern coach Marty Kollar has turned freshman Marche Bobbs loose in the 400 this season. She holds a DODDS-best time of 58.97.

“She will be untouchable in the 400, and could break the DODDS record in that event (57.30 by Christina McDuffie of Hohenfels in 2000).” Mead concluded.

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