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Track team shines — and struggles

SAINT-DENIS, France — The head of U.S. track and field could not resist a literary cliche in summing up the performance — on and off the track — of the American team at the World Championships.

"It's the best of times and the worst of times," said USA Track and Field chief executive Craig Masback, roughly quoting the opening lines of Charles Dickens' "A Tale of Two Cities."

The Americans led all nations with 20 medals, half of them gold, in the nine-day meet that ended Sunday. It was the best medal total for the U.S. team in a decade.

But two of those medals, by Kelli White in the women's 100 and 200 meters, are at risk. If White is stripped of her gold medals, the Americans would finish behind Russia's 19 medals — six of which were gold.

The U.S. team struggled in several events it usually dominates, including being shut out of the medals in the men's 100 and the women's pole vault. It was also embarrassed by the White drug test and the controversy around a 4-year-old drug case involving 400 world champion Jerome Young.

And there was Jon Drummond, the U.S. sprinter who threw a tantrum after being disqualified for a false start in the 100 quarterfinals. He withdrew from the meet but was tossed out for good measure by world track officials and faces additional punishment.

Yet the Americans got three golds and a silver in the four relays and a 1-2 finish in the men's 200 by John Capel and Darvis Patton, who gave a glimpse at the next generation of U.S. sprinters. Capel is 24, Patton is 23.

Capel, who is back on the track after a short-lived effort to make it as a wide receiver in the NFL, said he and Patton could become as dominant as Maurice Greene and Michael Johnson were in the 1990s.

"You can call it a new wave, but I think we've always been there. We've just been behind the shadows of Maurice Greene and Tim Montgomery," Patton said. "Now they're kind of laying low. It gives us the time to shine."

Reigning 100 Olympic champion Greene is one of the U.S. athletes whose best days may be over. Regina Jacobs, 40, a two-time world silver medalist in the women's 1,500 and a 12-time U.S. champion in that event, ran in her last World Championships.

Masback hopes the U.S. team can return to dominance at the Athens Games in events such as the men's 100 — in which Montgomery holds the world record — and men's shot put. A non-American won the world shot title in France for the first time in a decade.