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June 29, 2008

EUGENE, Ore. – South Carolina graduate Tiffany Ross-Williams won the 400-meter hurdles Sunday at the Olympic Trials to become the first Gamecock to earn a berth for USA to the 2008 Olympic Games that will be held in Beijing, China beginning August 8. Four other Gamecocks also competed in final rounds Sunday while two others advanced to compete Monday in their respective semifinal rounds.

A force to be reckoned with all weekend long in the women’s 400-meter hurdles, Ross-Williams earned her berth in the 29th Olympiad with a time of 54.03 in Sunday’s final. Ross-Williams has been in top form at the Olympic Trials, winning all three rounds of the 400-meter hurdles to make her first Olympic Games in convincing fashion.

“I thought I would run faster, but I thank God for the victory and I did what my coach wanted me to do,” Ross-Williams said. “This is something I’ve dreamt of all my life. It’s a great honor and I dedicate this to my family, for all they’ve done to support me. Now I’m going to go back and train with my coach, so I can get a medal. I just need to stay healthy and I know I will have a good chance to medal.”

Lashinda Demus also ran in the 400-meter hurdles final, placing fourth after running a 54.76. A 2004 Olympic team member in the same event, Demus came close to earning her second consecutive berth when she was edged out at the finish line by third-place finisher Sheena Tosta (54.62) for what she thought was a heartbreaking fourth-place finish. Demus learned after the race that her time would not count due to a disqualification after hooking the seventh hurdle, but a protest later re-awarded fourth place to Demus after officially ruling found the disqualification occurred by Latosha Wallace.

Rodney Martin and Leroy Dixon are both entered in the men’s 4×100-meter relay pool for America at the Olympic Games after placing in the top six in the men’s 100-meter dash Sunday. Martin placed fifth at 9.97. Dixon placed sixth at 9.99 to also put himself into the pool for the 4×100-meter relay team. Tyson Gay won the event at 9.68, a mark that would have gone down as a new world record but is not official due to the 4.1 wind-aid (4.1 compared to a maximum 2.0 allowed for official records).

Dixon may be recently remembered for running the anchor leg of the 4×100 at the World Championships in Osaka last year when he held off Jamaica’s Asafa Powell to give USA the gold. Sunday’s time of 9.99 marks the second consecutive day that he hit a new personal best as he becomes just the second Gamecock to run under 10-flat in the 100-meter dash. The other was Martin who ran a 9.95 Saturday in the quarterfinal round.

In the women’s 400-meter dash, Natasha Hastings and Brandi Cross both advanced to Monday’s semifinal with strong showings in the preliminary round. Hastings, a former NCAA champion that left South Carolina early last season to become a professional, won her heat at 51.51 to place third overall. Cross, a current sophomore at South Carolina, ran a 51.63 to finish third in her heat and place ninth overall.

“I felt very good about my race,” Hastings said. “My last few races have been shaky so we made some adjustments the last couple weeks in my training. I am really out here kind of testing things out at the same time so for me to run and feel the way I felt today I am very confident going into the semifinals.”

Former Gamecock volunteer coach Monique Hennagan also advanced to the semifinal round after running a 51.73 to place 13th overall.

Gamecock freshman Johnny Dutch competed in the men’s 400-meter hurdles as one of two collegians in the event final. Running in lane seven, the SEC Freshman Runner of the Year ran a 48.52 to place fifth overall at his first Olympic Trials. Dutch will next compete at the Junior World Championships that will be held in Poland from July 8-13. At the USA Junior Nationals last week, Dutch ran a 49.7 and finished as the runner-up to advance to the Junior World Championships.

“It was really exciting,” Dutch said. “There was a huge crowd with great support. I just thank God for the opportunity because not a lot of people in college can make it to this stage. It’s been a blessing and it was a great experience.”

Hastings and Cross will compete in Monday’s 400-meter dash semifinal beginning at 10:10 pm (EST). Television coverage will run from 11 pm – 1 am on the USA Network.