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TOP OF THE WORLD TRACK STARS PERRY, FELIX, KASTOR AND DEMUS FINISH NO. 1 IN THEIR RESPECTIVE SPECIALTIES.

Byline: KIRBY LEE Special to the Daily News

Who's No. 1?

In women's track and field, the answer lies right here.

Area track athletes Michelle Perry, Allyson Felix, Deena Kastor and Lashinda Demus all earned No. 1 world rankings for 2006.

Perry and Felix received the International Association of Athletics Federations' top ranking for the second year in a row -- in the women's 100-meter hurdles and 200meters, respectively -- by a 36-member voting panel.

Kastor is the first American ranked No.1 in the women's marathon in more than 20years, and Demus moved up to the top spot in the 400 hurdles.

``Southern California has always been regarded as the national hotbed for grassroots track and field talent, but to have four local athletes to be recognized as best on the planet is just amazing,'' said Rich Gonzalez, the director of the Arcadia Invitational, who watched all four compete at his meet while they were in high school.

``It's a testament not only to their tremendous work ethic, but also to the great coaching resources in the area, the outstanding local training facilities and the superb year-round training weather. Their current successes were well presaged in their high school days when I saw them dominate not only the national competition, but shine on the international stage as teens as well. All were exceptional at an early age and haven't eased up since. They were global gems from the get-go.''

Perry, 27, a Quartz Hill High graduate who resides in Santa Clarita, had the fastest yearly time in the world of 12.43seconds to win the IAAF Lausanne Grand Prix. She also posted Grand Prix victories in Rome, Stockholm, Nuremberg, Zurich and Monaco, as well as at the IAAF World Athletics Final.

The 2005 world champion, Perry is only the second American -- eight-time winner Gail Devers is the other -- to earn the world's top ranking more than once.

Perry, a sprinter, hurdler and long jumper at Quartz Hill, was better known as a heptathlete in previous seasons. She finished 14th in the 2004 Olympics and was second in the 2001 NCAA Championships as a UCLA senior.

Perry came close to quitting track after graduating from UCLA. She didn't compete in 2002 and was hobbled by a patella tendon injury in her left, lead leg the following year. She experienced extreme pain and a ``clicking and popping'' noise when she tried to push off her lead leg after clearing a hurdle. The injury was so severe that she considered retirement in 2004 after returning to Los Angeles and working as an academic athletic counselor at UCLA. Perry called it an ``inner battle'' to continue training before making the U.S. Olympic team for the Athens Games in the heptathlon.

``It was devastating when things didn't go my way,'' Perry said. ``I decided that I had given it my all and that was a victory in itself. There were days when I would feel that the (injury) defeated me. The next day, I would get up and was determined to train through it. It was very liberating to make the (Olympic) team.''

Perry has not competed inthe heptathlon since the 2004 Olympics. She plans to eventually return to the two-day, seven-event competition, but with her ascent in the 100 hurdles and the upcoming World Championships in August and the Olympics in 2008, she has put that on hold.

``It's like good cops and bad cops,'' Perry said. ``The 100 hurdles is my favorite event, but the heptathlon is an event where I know I am super- talented.''

There has never been any doubt that Felix's talents lie in the 200 meters. Felix, 21, of Santa Clarita, made the rare jump to the professional ranks after graduating in 2003 from L.A. Baptist High, where she broke Thousand Oaks High alum Marion Jones' national high school record.

The 2006 top global ranking is the latest accolade for Felix, the 2004 Olympic bronze medalist and 2005 world champion.

Felix tied a personal record with a time of 22.11 at the IAAF World Athletics Final and capped her season with a personal record in the 100 (11.05) at a meet in Japan.

``I was really pleased with the way I ended my season and I'm already looking forward to (this) year,'' Felix said on her Web site.

Demus, a 23-year-old Palmdale native, ran the world's two fastest times of the year in the women's 400hurdles -- 53.02 in the Athens Grand Prix and 53.07in the USA Track and Field Championships.

A 2005 world silver medalist and 2004 Olympic semifinalist who was second in the 2005 IAAF and Track& Field News rankings, Demus opened her season with nine consecutive victories. She won 11 of 14overall, including victories in the Hengelo, Ostrava, Paris, Rome, Rieti and the IAAF World Athletics final.

Kastor's top ranking in the women's marathon was the first by an American since Joan Samuelson in 1984 and 1985. Kastor, 33, who attended Agoura High, won the London Marathon with an American-record 2:19:36 -- the fastest time of 2006 -- and become the first U.S.woman to run a marathon in less than 2:20.

``It seems like the American women right now are really running spectacularly,'' Kaster said inan interview with runnersworld.com, ``and I think it's so exciting to see people raising the game a little bit more.''

Which is just what fourwomen from right here are doing.

CAPTION(S):

4 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Michelle Perry finished as the top 100-meter hurdler.

(2 -- color) Allyson Felix tied her personal best in the 200 meters (22.11 seconds) at the IAAF's World Athletic Final.

(3) Palmdale native Lashinda Demus finished the 2006 season ranked No. 1 in the world in the women's 400-meter hurdles.

Kirby Lee/Special to the Daily News

(4) KASTOR
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 4, 2007
Words:972
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