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The Big Event // MAKING THE LEAP

WHAT: Women's 400-meter hurdles.

WHEN: Final scheduled for 7:40 tonight.

ABOUT THE RACE: Hurdles races are basically sprints with obstacles placed on the track. The 400 hurdles is a one-lap race that includes 10 hurdles, each 2 feet, 6 inches high.

WHO'S MISSING: Two athletes expected to contend for medals did not make the final. Britain's Sally Gunnell, the former world record-holder and 1992 Olympic champion, failed to make it past the second round. American Sandra Farmer-Patrick, the silver medalist in 1992, did not look strong and only got to the semifinals.

WHO'S LEFT: World record-holder Kim Batten of Tallahassee is the favorite, although she did not have the top semifinal time. That belongs to Jamaican Deon Hemmings, who set an Olympic record Monday with her time of 52.99 seconds. Hemmings was seventh at the 1992 Olympics.

Hemmings' best time was 53.48, nearly a second slower than Batten's world record of 52.61. Batten set the record at last year's world championships, beating fellow American Tonja Buford-Bailey by .01 seconds.

Batten, a Florida State graduate, convincingly won her semifinal heat in 53.65. Buford-Bailey was second to Hemmings in 53.38. The three are the only women to break 54 seconds this year.

Batten has been waiting for a gold medal since 1992, when she finished fourth at the Olympic trials, barely missing a berth. Her progress since then has been rapid.

Buford-Bailey, meanwhile, has been running in Batten's shadow the past year. Though she also beat Gunnell's world record at the worlds last year and barely lost to Batten, it is Batten who most often is mentioned as the gold-medal favorite.

QUOTABLE: "We'll see what (Hemmings) has for the final," Batten said after the semifinal. "With Deon running that fast and Tonja and me back in the race, I think a world record is definitely in the making."

_ SHARON GINN

The finalists

(with semifinal times)

DEON HEMMINGS: Jamaica, 52.99 (Olympic record).

TONJA BUFORD-BAILEY: U.S., 53.38.

KIM BATTEN: U.S., 53.65.

HEIKE MEISSNER: Germany, 54.27.

SILVIA RIEGER: Germany, 54.27.

IONELA TIRLEA: Romania, 54.41.

ROSEY EDEH: Canada, 54.49.

DEBBIE PARRIS: Jamaica, 54.72.

Past winners

1992: Sally Gunnell, Great Britain, 53.23.

1988: Debra Flintoff-King, Australia, 53.17.

1984: Nawal El Moutawakel, Morocco, 54.61.

World record

KIM BATTEN: U.S., 52.61 (1995).

Top times

of 1996

(Through July 7)

TONJA BUFORD-BAILEY: U.S., 53.23.

KIM BATTEN: U.S., 53.81.

SANDRA FARMER-PATRICK: U.S., 54.07.

TONYA WILLIAMS: U.S., 54.17.

DEON HEMMINGS: Jamaica, 54.41.

HEIKE MEISSNER: Germany, 54.52.

SALLY GUNNELL: Great Britain, 54.65.

DEBBIE PARRIS: Jamaica, 54.78.

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