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Kevin Little a surprise winner in 200 at indoor championhips

March 8, 1997

PARIS (AP) _ Kevin Little is not fazed by the history of white American sprinters, and his positive attitude carried him to a memorable victory Saturday at the World Indoor Championship.

``I realize I’m a white man, but I’m trying to be the fastest sprinter in the world _ not the fastest white man,″ Little, 28, said after flashing to a historic triumph in the 200 meters, tying the American record of 20.40 seconds.

``The way I see it, a man won the 200. It doesn’t matter what color.

``I know what I’m capable of. Hopefully, the fans and the viewers and the world will see that and they won’t see it as a white sprinter. I want to be appreciated for my talent and my sport.″

Little’s memorable win was the first by a white American sprinter in a major international meet _ Olympics or World Championship _ since 1956, when Bobby Morrow swept the 100 and 200 _ and ran on the winning 400-meter relay _ at the Melbourne Games.

``I was confident coming in and I knew I could win,″ said Little, a two-time bronze medalist at the World Indoor Championship. ``I felt I couldn’t be beat. There was no pressure on me except the pressure I put on myself _ and that’s enough.″

Little drew the outside sixth lane, considered unfavorable on most indoor tracks. He did not see it as a disadvantage.

``I was excited about drawing lane six,″ he said. ``If you know how to run the turns, it can be an advantage.

``I had to run a perfect race and I did that.″

His perfection resulted in matching the U.S. record set last year by Jeff Williams and in a championship record.

Despite his confidence, Little was not the favorite. The overwhelming pre-race choice was Ato Boldon, the 1996 Olympic 100 and 200 bronze medalist from Trinidad and Tobago, who had set the meet record of 20.41 in Friday’s qualifying.

Boldon didn’t even finish the race. With about 30 meters remaining and running in third place, he crumpled to the track at the Bercy Sports Palace, his right hamstring severely strained.

Little was not the only sprinter to win out of lane six Saturday.

So did Ekaterini Koffa of Greece in taking the women’s 200 in 22.76, a national record. Koffa joined teammate Haralamos Papadias, winner of the men’s 60 Friday, as a world champion, giving Greece two titles in a major championship for the first time.

Lawrence Johnson, the U.S. pole vault champion, nearly had the gold, but finished second. He was the only one to clear 19 feet, 2 1/4 inches, and leading the competition until Igor Potapovich of Kazakstan, who had missed twice at that height, passed to 19-4 1/4. Potapovitch, needing to clear or Johnson would be the champion, soared over the bar cleanly, matching the year’s best.

Johnson still had a chance to win, moving the bar to an American record 19-6 1/4, but missed three times.

``Silver wasn’t bad,″ said Johnson, ``but I wanted the gold.″

Morocco’s Hicham El Guerrouj, the world’s middle-distance sensation, also set a championship record, winning the men’s 1,500 for the second consecutive time. However, his time of 3:35.31 paled in comparison to the world record of 3:31.18 he set last month. El Guerrouj, who also set the world mile record last month, won by nearly 30 meters.

``This is terrific,″ El Guerrouj said. ``Two world records, and now this.

``I tried to get the world record, but the essential thing was to win..

Cuba’s Ivan Pedroso made it three straight world indoor titles in the men’s long jump, matching his meet record of 27 feet, 11 inches, and Stefka Kostadinova of Bulgaria won her fifth world indoor title in the women’s high jump, clearing a world-leading 6-7 1/2, then missed three times at a world record 6-9 3/4.

Saturday’s other winners were Romania’s Gabriela Szabo in the women’s 3,000 for a second straight time in a world-leading 8:45.75; Russia’s Inna Lasovskaya in the women’s triple jump at 49-3, only three-quarters of an inch off the world record, and Ukraine’s Vita Pavlysh, who ended the 53-meet winning streak of Germany’s Ingrid Kumbernuss in the women’s shot put with a throw of 65-7 1/2.

Meanwhile, Denmark’s Wilson Kipketer, who set a stunning world record of 1:43.96 in Friday’s opening heats of the men’s 800, cruised through his semifinal in 1:48.49 and will go for the title Sunday, the final day of the championships.

And Sunday’s women’s 1,500-meter final will feature the meet’s oldest competitor, 44-year-old Yekaterina Podkopayeva of Russia, and 38-year-old Mary Slaney, after the two advanced in Saturday’s semifinals. Podkopayeva won her heat in 4:11.23 and Slaney was an eased-up second in her heat in 4:10.27.