Muna Lee taking the U.S. 100m title in Eugene in 10.85 (Getty Images) © Copyright
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On the road to Beijing dash double, Paris is first stop for Lee - ÅF Golden League

17 July 2008Paris, France  In the crowded ranks of international sprint talent, Muna Lee’s may not yet be a household name. But as the only woman whose Olympic double dash ambitions survived the arduous U.S. Trials earlier this month, she may very well be in about a month’s time.

“I was very excited about the trials,” said the 26-year-old. “It was my best meet ever.” Indeed, the former NCAA star for Louisiana State University was the surprise winner of the 100m, clocking a career best 10.85, then came back eight days later to finish second in the 200m with a wind-assisted 21.99. Considering the depth of U.S. women’s sprinting, did she realistically see herself as a doubler in Beijing?

Her reply was quick and confident. “Yeah, I did.”

Since moving on from LSU in 2004, for whom she captured back-to-back NCAA runner-up finishes in the 100 and 200, Lee has been steadily establishing herself as on the U.S. and international scene. Those close to the Kansas City native, and those who observed her progression in the collegiate ranks, knew that it would be just a matter of time before the student of fashion design would begin fashioning designs on medals on the world stage.

In 2004, she finished second at the U.S. trials in the 200m, and made it to the final in Athens where she finished seventh. The following year she met with better success in the 100m, taking second at the U.S. trials, and again finishing seventh in the Helsinki final, as well as taking gold on the victorious 4x100m Relay.

But soon thereafter, training with coach Bobby Kersee, Lee began coping with a string of injuries that would slow her for the next two seasons.

“Training was very hard with Bobby,” she said, reeling off a list of injuries that began to mount. In 2006 she sustained a serious knee injury and a hamstring injury followed in 2007. So last December she relocated to College Station, Texas, to train with Vince Anderson. In the interim, she said, “I’ve just been trying to get myself back together.”

Her initial outings of the season indicated that the change may have been for the better. She took a 11.10/21.91w double in Martinique on 8 May, and dashed to her first sub-11 performance in the 100m at the Reebok Grand Prix in New York on 31 May, clocking 10.97. In between, she also lowered her personal best in the 200 to 22.30, winning the adidas Track Classic in Carson. All things considered, all was progressing nicely, which she amply displayed at the trials.

Now that the time will come to deliver after Eugene, Lee said that she doesn’t feel any weight upon her shoulders.

“I don’t feel any pressure,” she said. “My coach told me that he believed in me. When he told me that, I began believing it.” The primary difference in her routine she said, “Is mainly in the training. It’s more technical now. (Anderson) has time to focus on me.”

Lee said that her favourite event is the 100, but acknowledges that, for now, she’s better at the 200.

“I’ve been working really hard on the 100. The main problem is just maintaining at the end of the race.”

She previews her appearance in Paris tomorrow night, where she’ll contest the 200 in her first race since the Trials, as “More of a maintenance run, fine-tuning.”

“I’m working on being more comfortable in the start of my race since I haven’t run many 200s this year.”

Further on, her pre-Beijing prep will include a 100m race in Stockholm and a 200m outing in London. Then she’ll return for a few weeks before making her way to the Chinese capital. There she’ll have plenty of fast company, particularly in the 200m, where the favourites include Allyson Felix and Veronica Campbell-Brown, respectively, the reigning World and Olympic champions. And she’s eager to meet them head-on.

“I don’t think anyone’s unbeatable,” she said.

“I have as good a chance as anyone,” she concluded. “I’m going for it.”

Bob Ramsak for the IAAF