Mount Healthy's D'Andre Hill joins Torrence, Devers in Olympics

Fast company

Hill heads for Atlanta with golden opportunity

The Cincinnati Enquirer

ATLANTA - D'Andre Hill is no longer an aspiring Olympian. Now, she can start musing about medals.

Mt. Healthy's world-class sprinter achieved a daunting dream Saturday night, qualifying to compete for the title of World's Fastest Woman. She ran 100 meters in 10.92 seconds, her fourth personal best in 48 hours, and secured a return trip to Atlanta for next month's Summer Games.

''I'm very surprised,'' she said at the U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials. ''I was confident I could make the finals if I was able to run my race. But I'm still shocked. This is a thrill.''

Two weeks after claiming the NCAA's sprint title for Louisiana State University, Hill gave spirited chase to world champion Gwen Torrence and nearly nosed out Olympic gold medalist Gail Devers in taking the third 100-meter spot on the U.S. team. And even if she is unable to surpass her renowned rivals when the whole world is watching, D'Andre Hill retains a glorious chance at a gold medal.

Saturday's finish assures her of a place on the U.S. women's 4-by-100-meter relay team, which has finished first in each of the last three Summer Games. There is no faster female company on the face of the earth.

Though Hill had run the swiftest semifinal heat, the women's 100 was promoted as a match race between Torrence and Devers. In his race preview, Glen McMicken of USA Track & Field observed, ''Torrence looks capable of dropping into the 10.70's at the Trials or Games, and shouldn't be challenged.''

''Challenged'' is a relative term in track and field. In a race where the gap between first and second can often be measured in eyelashes, Torrence was clearly the dominant force. She bettered her own 1996 world best with a time of 10.82. Still, there was hot pursuit at her heels. Devers was less than one-tenth of a second behind Torrence at 10.91, which left her only one-hundredth of a second ahead of Hill. In Saturday's semifinal, Hill had beaten Devers by the same miniscule margin.

''I knew it would be a hot final and that I'd have to run to get on the team,'' Devers said. ''This will be the strongest women's 100 team we've ever had.''

''The U.S. women always have someone rising up in the ranks,'' said Torrence. ''I'm always reading Track & Field News, watching results and going to meets. I want to know who's coming up.''

Two weeks ago, D'Andre Hill announced her approach by winning the NCAA's 100 meters with a time of 11.03. It was then the third-fastest time any woman had run this year. She has only outdone herself since then.

Each of her four races at the Centennial Olympic Stadium were progressively faster: 11.00, 10.99, 10.97 and 10.92. Each of them represented a new personal best.

''The past couple of races, I felt I had an OK start, but didn't explode out of the blocks,'' she said following Saturday's final. ''Tonight, I exploded out of the blocks. . . . I'm running very well right now. If the times keep improving, there's no telling what I can do.''

Ken Berry, who coached Hill at Mt. Healthy High School, watched Saturday's race on television with equal parts anxiety and pride.

''It was tremendous,'' Berry said. ''She really looked strong, but I was so nervous I didn't think I was going to be able to sit and watch it. I never thought I'd be able to say I coached someone who was on the Olympic team.''

There were a few notable believers. The staff at Christ Hospital donated more than 200 hours of vacation time (worth $3,000) to help bankroll Hill's Olympic dream. Hill's mother, Carolyn, works in the hospital lab.

''My mom is the baddest lady in the country,'' D'Andre Hill said. ''She raised $3,000 in a week. I've known most of those people since I was in my mother's arms. ''

She is sure to make some new friends now. Having qualified for the Olympic team, D'Andre Hill is bound to appeal to some shoe company sponsor. Yesterday, she was a dreamer. Today, she is an Olympian. Big difference.

Tim Sullivan is an Enquirer columnist.

Published June 16, 1996.