Mitchell, a garrulous soul, growled that he felt sure Rosen would find some way to get Lewis on the team. Rosen insisted that the lineup wouldn't be made final until 48 hours before the heats.
The issue became moot in the 100-meter semifinals when Wither-spoon ruptured an Achilles tendon. "Thankfully," says Lewis's coach, Tom Tellez, "Carl was there, with that great, steadying influence."
One who needed a little bracing was Rosen. "With Witherspoon out," he says, "we changed the relay order and put Marsh first; then Burrell, because he doesn't sec well from one eye and is best on the straightaway; and Mitchell third. Carl would anchor."
But Mitchell now wanted to anchor. "I said, 'You're nuts; you always run third,' " says Rosen. "He said he'd won the trials, he deserved to anchor. I said, 'I'm not going to run Carl Lewis third. With Lewis anchoring, those other anchors arc going to be scared out of their wits.' "
The U.S. sprinters won one semifinal in 38.14 and watched Nigeria take the other in a dangerous 38.21. "We ran terribly," says Lewis. "We were concerned about Nigeria's raw speed—especially Dennis. He felt we needed to make up the difference in other ways, like the passes."
Thus on the afternoon of the final, Mitchell appeared before Rosen. "He said he was going to get the team and go over to the practice track early and stretch out their exchange zones," recalls Rosen. The coach paled. The fastest pass is one in which the outgoing sprinter uses almost all the 20-meter zone to build speed, and the incoming runner leans and stretches to get the stick into his hurtling teammate's hand at the last instant. Such passes, leaving no room for error, petrify Rosen. He insisted on putting a safety mark at the midpoint of each sprinter's zone, where, Rosen said, he would be pleased to see every pass completed. "I never thought about going for any world record," he says now. "The name of the game in the Olympics is to be careful and win." Rosen told Lewis to move back his check mark—the spot that, when hit by Mitchell, would signal Lewis to begin to run—only a couple of feet.
When Rosen reached the practice track, Lewis had more news. "Now Dennis wants to run our warmup handoffs at full speed," he said.
"He's crazy," said Rosen. "Half speed."
"Dennis is hilarious, says Lewis, "if you're on his team. He can be annoying if you're not. He talks crap from the time he hops off the bus to the time he gets the stick."
"I'm annoying on the track," Mitchell agrees. "I work to be annoying. That's what drives me. Carl's internally driven.... We're complete opposites on the track, but we're both professionals and able to put aside the outside stuff once the gun goes off."