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June 28, 2008

EUGENE, Ore. – The former and current members of the South Carolina track and field team continue to put on a strong showing at the U.S. Olympic Trials as five Gamecocks advanced to Sunday’s final rounds in their respective events at the University of Oregon’s Hayward Field.

“The Gamecocks are having a great showing at the Olympic Trials,” South Carolina head coach Curtis Frye said. “I hope our alumni and supporters are proud of our young people. They continue to do things at a high level. They do things in a classy way and compete at the international level.”

It was a good day for South Carolina hurdlers as Tiffany Ross-Williams, Lashinda Demus and Johnny Dutch all advanced to Sunday’s final round in the women’s and men’s 400-meter hurdles, respectively. Ross-Williams, who won Friday’s quarterfinal round at 55.47, continued her strong performance Saturday to again win her heat and the event to advance. She crossed the line at 54.75 to advance while fellow Gamecocks Demus finished at 55.70 to place second to Ross-Williams in the second heat and fourth overall to advance. Sunday’s final will begin at 7:02 pm (EST) with the top three finishers advancing to represent America at the 2008 Olympic Games beginning August 8 in Beijing.

“It felt really good and I got out strong,” Ross-Williams said following the race. “I was just trying to make sure that I didn’t get too far out of the race and relax. I always want to win. I missed out on the 2004 Olympics, so I am doing this for my family. It has always been my grandparents goal for me to make to the Olympic team.”

Dutch, the SEC Freshman Runner of the Year and school record holder in the 400-meter hurdles after one season for the Garnet and Black, placed fourth in the men’s 400-meter hurdles semifinals at 48.71. His run marked an improvement of 11 spots from his performance in Friday’s quarterfinal round as he prepares for Sunday’s final round that begins at 7:17 pm (EST).

“I was really satisfied,” Dutch said. “I knew going in I would have to run as hard as I ran in the quarterifnals. I just had to go out hard and hold it and stay with whoever passed me going to the last curve. I’m pretty satisfied with the race. I believe I have more in store.”

“Johnny’s on the track of an outside chance to making the Olympics,” Frye said. “His finish put him in a good lane tomorrow. He’s one of only two collegians and the only freshman still in the race. He has a good chance to make a showing. It’s tough to be the top three in the U.S. but it’s a great experience and he has a good chance tomorrow.”

Former Gamecocks Rodney Martin and Leroy Dixon both hit personal bests to qualify for Sunday’s semifinal in the 100-meter dash after advancing through two rounds Saturday. In the qualifying round, Martin won his heat at 10.10 to place fourth and Dixon crossed at 10.16 for 12th and a spot in the quarterfinal round. The two then improved their times later at night with Martin running a 9.95 and Dixon running a 10.06 to both advance to the next round. Martin placed fifth overall while Dixon placed 10th. Martin became the first Gamecock, past or present, to run under 10-flat in the 100-meter dash with his performance Saturday night.

“The Gamecocks had a good one today,” Frye said. “Lashinda Demus and Tiffany Ross-Williams both made the finals as former NCAA champions out of Carolina. Them, Rodney Martin and Leroy Dixon all had good runs. Once a Gamecock, always a Gamecock.”

The Gamecock women were also well represented in the 100-meter dash, as four of the 16 semifinalists were all former Gamecocks. Mechelle Lewis (10.97-4th), Lisa Barber (11.07-10th), Shalonda Solomon (11.18-14th) and Alexis Joyce (11.31-16th) all ran in Saturday’s semifinal round, and Lewis advanced to the finals where she ran an 11.08 to place seventh.

“Yesterday we ended up with five former Gamecocks making the first two rounds of the 100-meters on the women’s side and that progressed to having four women that were back today out of the top 16,” Frye said. “I was particularly proud of all of them including Shalonda Solomon who trains and is still a student in Columbia. She ran three great races.”

“Thomas Hilliard, Kenny Ferguson, Tony Allmond and Chris Steddum also competed for us,” Frye said. “There were a lot of showings, some good and some not as good as I’m sure they would have liked. I definitely would have like dot see more of them make finals and go to Beijing.”

Television coverage Sunday will begin at 7 p.m. (EST) on NBC. Gamecocks competing Sunday will be Leroy Dixon and Rodney Martin (100m, 5:30 pm and 7:49 pm), Brandi Cross and Natasha Hastings (400m, 6 pm), Lashinda Demus and Tiffany Ross-Williams (400mH Finals, 7:02 pm) and Johnny Dutch (400mH Finals, 7:17 pm).