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Youngsters show their stuff in the Sacramento rain

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) Remember the names Marshevet Hooker, Cleo Tyson and Walter Dix. These kids can run, and they're just getting started.

Hooker is a sophomore from Texas, Tyson a freshman from Tennessee and Dix, also a freshman, is from Florida State. And all three breezed through qualifying rounds in their events Wednesday on a rainy opening night at the NCAA track and field championships.

''Like my coach says,'' Tyson said, ''you've got to take it while you have a chance, seize it, because who says you're going to have it next year?''

All three anchored their 400-meter relay teams that advanced to the finals. All three won their qualifying and semifinal heats in the 100. Hooker also had the third-best mark in the long jump qualifying 10 minutes before she lined up for the 100 semis.

''A busy day,'' she said. ''I got through it though.''

The intermittent rain was annoying, but nothing like the lightning-tinged deluge that washed out the opening day of the NCAA meet a year ago in Austin, Texas. Still, Dix didn't like it.

''It was a horrible day as far as weather,'' he said. ''I didn't expect it from California. I'm not used to running in this kind of stuff. I felt pretty `slouchy.' I just wanted to make it through the rounds and get ready for the 200.''

The meet features 1,088 athletes in four days of competition at Hornet Stadium on the Sacramento State campus, site of the last two U.S. Olympic trials. There were no final events on the opening day.

The men's 100 field was depleted by the absence of two of the nation's top collegiate sprinters, Steve Mullings and Tyson Gay.

Mullings, a Mississippi State junior whose 10.06 tied Dix for the fastest collegiate time this season, was banned from competition for two years by the Jamaican athletic federation last week for his positive test for steroids at last year's Jamaican championships. He was eligible to compete in the NCAA meet, though, but withdrew Tuesday.

Gay, an Arkansas senior and the event's defending champion, was disqualified because of a false start in the Mideast Regional.

Tennessee sophomore Tianna Madison had the best long jump mark by more than a foot at 22-¼.

Virginia Powell of Southern California shot out to a big lead and won her heat in the 100 hurdles in a personal-best 12.73 seconds.

Just 76 points separated the top four through five events of the decathlon. Andrew Levin of Montana led with 4,023 points, followed by William Thomas of Connecticut at 3,991 and Texas teammates Donovan Kilmartin (3,964) and Trey Hardee (3,947).

Darold Williamson of Baylor and Monique Henderson of UCLA, both part of Olympic gold-medal 1,600 relay teams in Athens, qualified easily for the 400 semifinals.

Andrew Ellerton of Michigan was the fastest qualifier in the men's 800 preliminaries at 1:47.88. The favorite, U.S. Olympian Jonathan Johnson of Texas Tech, qualified ninth out of the 15 who advanced to the Thursday night's semifinals.

Johnson, a senior, set the stadium record at 1:44.77 in last year's Olympic Trials and made it to the semifinals in Athens. He said a successful defense of his NCAA title would just be the start of a big season.

''I've still got a long season ahead of me,'' Johnson said. ''Obviously, I've got the NCAAs, then I've got the U.S. championships and once I make the team, the world championships. I'm also going to run some meets over in Europe. So this is just a stepping stone to kind of get me ready for the real outdoor season.''

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