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Favor Hamilton brings her 1,500 show to the Prefontaine Classic.

Byline: Bob Rodman The Register-Guard

Just add Suzy Favor Hamilton to the Prefontaine Classic and you have a recipe for few dull moments.

In 1991, Favor Hamilton and PattiSue Plumer elbowed their way to the finish line of the mile, Plumer crashing as Favor Hamilton prevailed in less than a second.

Nine years later, in the women's 1,500 meters, Favor Hamilton and Romania's Gabriela Szabo forged another photo finish when Favor Hamilton nearly caught Szabo in the final meters before herself taking a fall and losing by six-hundredths of a second.

"People think I try to create the drama there," Favor Hamilton said in a telephone interview from her home in New Glarus, Wis. "I don't.

"I do like to put on a good show, and it just so happens that the races I've had there with Szabo and Plumer were dramatic and went down to the finish line."

Favor Hamilton is the marquee entrant in the women's 1,500 of the 29th running of the Pre Classic on May 24 at Hayward Field. The IAAF Grand Prix I track and field show is considered the best invitational meet staged on United States soil, and among the top 10 in the world.

Favor Hamilton is one of the reasons why.

"I think the women's 1,500 has a chance to be the most competitive race in the meet," said Tom Jordan, the Classic's director, "and that is largely due to Suzy's presence.

"She has run in the meet at least 10 times and Suzy has been involved in some of the most exciting races in the history of the Prefontaine Classic."

Favor Hamilton, a three-time Olympian, a three-time USA outdoor champion and a nine-time NCAA champion, is making her 2003 outdoor season debut at the Pre meet.

Less than three months from her 35th birthday, Favor Hamilton has paired talent with longevity and is considered the premier 1,500 runner in the U.S.

She wants more.

"I want to be ranked No. 1 in the world. I want the American record. I want to get some hardware - Olympic and World Championship medals," she said.

The 5-foot-4, 108-pound Favor Hamilton, who lived and trained in Eugene for several years in the early 1990s, has flirted with feast and famine.

Last year, she ran three sub-4-minute 1,500s, becoming just the second American in history to do so. The other is Mary Slaney.

Favor Hamilton, at the Bislett Games in 2000, ran the second-fastest 1,500 by an American - 3:57.40. The fastest? Slaney's American record of 3:57.12, which has stood for 20 years.

"I know words do not mean a lot," Favor Hamilton said, "but I am only 28 hundredths of a second away from that record. I am very, very close.

"Mary was my idol when I was growing up, and I am so amazed that now I am chasing her record."

Favor Hamilton does not expect that record-snagging moment to occur at the Pre Classic. "It's just too early," she said.

Favor Hamilton is all too aware of what pushing the envelope too soon in a season can do.

The 2000 season was a magical one in which she established her 1,500 personal record, established lifetime bests in the 800 (1:58.10), 3,000 (8:46.16) and 5,000 (15:06.48) and was considered a medal contender at the Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia.

At the Prefontaine Classic that year, Favor Hamilton ran 4:00.79, "and I was in under-4-minute shape," she said. "I learned it was not a good idea to be in that great of shape in May. It's so hard to hold that shape."

Months later at Sydney, Favor Hamilton was fighting an as yet undetected injury, and collapsed on the last lap of the 1,500 final, finishing 12th.

"Sydney sucked," she remembered. "It was awful. I'll never put myself in another situation like that. I was running with a broken bone in my butt for a month and nobody had a clue.

"People said it was all in my mind. Now, I realize it wasn't."

Favor Hamilton now is fusing talent, longevity and wisdom to fashion her game plan. "I've put that 2000 season behind me but I've grown from it. I've learned from it.

"Anything could happen in the (Pre Classic) race," she said, aware that the event's field includes four national record-holders - Slovenia's Jolanda Ceplak, Mexico's Dulce Maria Rodriguez, Canada's Leah Pells and Jamaica's Mardrea Hyman. "I love running at Pre. It's like coming home. But I'm about 80 percent in training. It would be nice to run 4:02 or 4:03."

CAPTION(S):

Suzy Favor Hamilton is chasing Mary Slaney's 20-year-old American record of 3:57.12 in the 1,500.
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Title Annotation:Her presence at the annual track and field event has brought memorable, down-to-the-wire finishes; Sports
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:May 15, 2003
Words:801
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