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Then comes the best part--the dance. Maybe he'll snatch the pole back and ride it like a cowboy. Or he'll do the funky chicken. He might pull out the robot--"It's a classic," he says, laughing. "You get this reaction from the people, like 'Oh, my God, he's doing the robot.'" Some purists aren't smiling, labeling Stevenson a showboat. But he says his antics are what the vault needs. "I'm just having a great time," says the Stanford economics grad, who plans to start his own business. "I'm not taunting anyone. This is a professional sport--it needs help. It needs fans. And if someone says, 'I heard this crazy pole vaulter that does these dumb dances is going to be at a track meet. Let's go check it out,' I've done something right."
Despite the new wave, there are lingering weaknesses that are hurting the sport. In the middle-and long-distance events, the U.S. hasn't had a star in decades. In Alan Webb, 21, who in 2001 broke the high school mile record that had stood for 36 years, the U.S. has its best medal chance in the 1,500 m, although it's unlikely he will beat the dominant African runners. Some fans are fed up with the drug headlines and will tune out no matter how many kids approach the starting line. "I acknowledge this reality," says Craig Masback, CEO of U.S.A. Track and Field. "And I accept it." So Masback just needs Crawford and Gatlin to win medals in both sprints, then win their relays. And Felix to take the gold in the 200 m, with her smiling, stunning face a reminder of what Jones used to be. And for Stevenson to dance his way to an even higher world mark. Then he needs them and the other 110 U.S. track-and-field athletes in Greece to pass their drug tests. Then track and field can at least start healing. What a perfect place for a Herculean task.