Californians help fuel top USA finish

Americans rack up record total of 21 medals at IAAF World Junior Track & Field Championships in Jamaica, nearly doubling the total of any other nation, and several Californians led the way.

Lashinda Demus and Monique Henderson may be household names in a few years the way Marion Jones is today. The two recent graduates of California high schools were a main reason why the U.S. did so well at this year's World Junior Track & Field Championships in Kingston, Jamaica, which wrapped up Sunday with relay events.

Demus and Henderson both earned two gold medals for their efforts in the meet. Demus set a world junior record in the 400 hurdles and anchored the 4x400 relay team to a first-place finish. Henderson was first in the 400-meter dash and also ran a leg in the 4x400 relay.

If you've ever been to the Penn Relays in Philadelphia each April, you know how crazy the Jamaican track fans can get and with this year's World Junior championships in Kingston it should come as no surprise that Sunday's relay finals packed in a boisterous crowd of more than 34,000 who wildly cheered anybody running fast in green-and-gold tights.

And although the Jamaican women took gold in the 4x100, it was the Americans that won the other three relay events. In the 4x400 women's race, Team USA beat the field with a foursome that included three from California, Christine Hardeman (last June's CIF state meet champ from Wilcox of Santa Clara) plus Henderson (now of UCLA, formerly from Morse of San Diego) and Demus (now of South Carolina, formerly from Long Beach Wilson). The U.S. team won gold over Russia and Great Britain after a strong anchor by Demus.

The USA women's team that was second in the 4x100 behind Jamaica included Shalonda Solomon, who still has two years to go at Long Beach Poly. Wes Felix, who graduated a year ago from Valencia High and now goes to USC, was a member of the U.S. men's team that took gold in the 4x100. There were no Californians on the U.S. squad that finished first in the men's 4x400.

Alyson Felix, Wes' younger sister from L.A. Baptist High of North Hills who was so dominant at the state meet in June in the 100 and 200, also made it to Jamaica. She's been battling injuries most of the summer, though, and left the island with a fifth-place showing in the 200 (23.48).

With the relay squads doing so well, which is usually the case for U.S. track teams at international competitions, American juniors piled up 21 total medals during the five-day event, including nine gold. The only other nations in double figures were China (11), Jamaica (11) and Russia (10). Kenya was second for most gold with five, but had only eight overall.

The only individual World Junior champion from the U.S. team who just graduated from high school was Andra Manson of Brenham, Texas, in the high jump. Manson, who will start classes this fall at the University of Arkansas, cleared an all-time U.S. high school record of 7-7 in winning the high jump competition last Thursday. At the end of the recent high school season, Manson was second of the U.S. season leader list behind Chico's Teak Wilburn. Manson had a best at the time of 7-4 while Wilburn had a best of 7-4 1/4. Wilburn suffered an ankle injury in May and was not even able to attend the CIF state meet.

Two California preps who just missed medaling were Rubin Williams (Valley Christian, San Jose) with a fourth-place showing the men's 200 and Billie-Jo Grant (Arroyo Grande) with a fifth-place finished in the women's discus. Another thrower from Grant's school, Sean Shields (who graduated a year ago), had a breakout meet in the shot put as he captured a silver medal.

It's also notable that Rashaad Allen, who graduated from McClymonds of Oakland last year, has improved greatly since he's gone to Cal State Northridge. Allen qualified for the world junior championships by winning the U.S. Junior Nationals, made it to the 100-meter dash final in Jamaica, and earned a fifth-place finish.

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