Crawford, Gatlin Ready To Start Season

PHILADELPHIA -- Olympic gold medalists Shawn Crawford and Justin Gatlin can thank Arkansas sophomore Wallace Spearmon Jr. for snapping them out of their post-Athens funk this season.

On Friday at a press conference to preview today's USA vs. The World relays from Franklin Field, Gatlin mentioned his trip to the Mt. SAC Relays two weeks ago as the spark he needed after fulfilling a lifelong dream by winning gold in the 100 meters last August.

At Mt. SAC, Spearmon ran a world-leading 19.97 in the 200 meters and Gatlin, 22, told USA Today this week that the former Tennessee star's collegiate record of 19.86 is likely in danger this season.

"You come to other meets and watch younger people run like at Mt. SAC," Gatlin said. "Seeing my competitors run, it sparked a fire back in me. Now I'm ready to break world records, win world championships. Those are my goals."

NBC will carry the 111th Penn Relays live today from 3-5 p.m. and the gold medal pair are ready to kick off their seasons today in the annual USA vs. The World relay championships at Franklin Field before more than 50,000 fans.

"It's like a basketball all-star team," Gatlin said. "We come out here to show off our talent to the crowd. That's what they want. It's time to have fun."

Crawford, 27, is a nonstop quote machine who -- when asked about the security situation at the Athens Games at Penn last year -- said he didn't care if he got blown up "as long as I'm around some pretty girls."

Crawford said complacency was the biggest obstacle for him to overcome during the winter when he, Gatlin and most other Olympians took the indoor season off.

"I got lazy," Crawford said. "The gold medal made me a little lazy. I was a little conservative in practice, especially during the months where I would be competing indoors. I was like, ‘Well, I have time. I can back off. I've got until April to get ready.' I'm just being honest with you.

"There's a lot of perks. You get more cash and you have different spending habits. Other than that, it's been great. It's been a blessing, I'll tell you that much. I thank God for it every day. I just wish I could get rid of the laziness."

Continuing, Crawford mentioned Spearmon's shattering of the American indoor 200 record of 20.26 he and John Capel jointly held since 2000 as an inspiration for him to get back to work with the 2005 World Championships coming up in August in Helsinki, Finland.

Spearmon lowered the American record to 20.2 in the 200 prelims and reset it down a tenth to 20.1 to win the finals for his second NCAA title.

"Once you see young kids dropping times and breaking records, that puts the fire back in you," he said.

Training partners and friends, Crawford and Gatlin bobbled their handoff in the 4x100 last year at Penn and after they each went through eight rounds of competition in the 100 and 200 at Athens, Great Britain snuck out of Athens with the gold in the 4x100 relay.

Gatlin, who took bronze in the 200 and made it a full set with his silver in the 4x100, said the Americans' approach was different than Great Britain.

The Brits had no members running the 100 meters individually while the U.S. had Crawford, Gatlin and Maurice Greene competing in the 100, 200 or both.

"If we had more training sessions, no disrespect to anyone, but I think we could be unstoppable," said Gatlin, seated a few chairs down from Brits Jonathon Gardner and Mark Lewis-Francis, who will try to continue their success against the U.S. today.

While American sprinters train around the country for different coaches, the British practice together for months.

Crawford said he and Gatlin could work on handoffs, but it would be a challenge.

"Between the two of us we don't have one baton," Crawford said. "We could pass a shoe to each other on the curve."

Though the U.S. has won gold in the 4x100 15 of the 21 times it has been contested in the Olympics, it meant more to the Brits in 2004.

"The biggest event for (Great Britain) was the relay and they'd always come so close," Gatlin said. "They had several practices and were comfortable. For us, it's like, ‘Well, I just ran eight races, I hope I can make it down the track and give the stick to Shawn.'"

Gatlin, Crawford and the rest of the American relay pool should be fresh today at an event the U.S. has dominated for the six years the USA vs. The World at Penn has been run.

American teams have won 26 of the 28 relay races and even Gatlin and Crawford's missed pass for USA Blue last year didn't cost any national pride as the Red team won anchored by J.J. Johnson, who takes a world of pleasure in taunting the large Jamaican contingent by baring his chest and flexing his muscles after an American win.

The American women will also be looking to avenge their loss in the 4x100 to the Jamaican team anchored by former Lady'Back and 200 meter gold medalist Veronica Campbell, who still attends Arkansas and trains in Fayetteville.

Campbell won't be present today, but her gold-medal teammates Aleen Bailey and Tayna Lawrence will.

The U.S. will also have 200 silver medalist Allyson Felix and 100 silver medalist Lauryn Williams in its relay pool.

"It's awesome," said U.S. member and Olympic Trials 100 champion LaTasha Colander. "The youth not only get to see the professional athletes, but for us to get the energy not only from the youth, but from the crowd and the spirit of having a wonderful meet in the States,"

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