Lewis extended the U.S. lead over Nigeria from one meter to seven, crossed the finish line, saw the clock stopped at 37.40 and was astounded to realize that his team had taken .10 of a second from the world record set by Andre Cason, Burrell, Mitchell and Lewis in 1991. "Factoring in the wind, this has to equal 37.2," Lewis would say later.
Then Mitchell reached him. "That strange old Mitchell," said Rosen, who would stay in the stands and let the team go to its victorious press conference without him. "He hasn't talked to Carl all week. Now he jumps into his arms."
"Dennis is a good guy at heart," says Lewis. "Believe it or not, the more Dennis and I are together, the fewer problems we have."
As the U.S. sprinters took their victory lap, the crowd was thunderously approving but far from satisfied. The world record had charged the air with possibility, and the crowd's sound was deep and low, the underroar of a great furnace still ascending toward full heat.
Not that Algeria's Hassiba Boulmerka needed any more fire. The 1991 world champion in the women's 1,500 meters was both exalted and deplored in her own country and within her own religion. Her dilemma was stark. The more she won, the more she embodied the untapped potential of Algerian and Islamic women—something Boulmerka dearly wanted to do. Yet the more she won, the more she seemed, to many traditional Muslims, to be a symbol of moral decay. She had been denounced by imams for running with naked legs in stadiums full of men. If she continued to refuse to submit to traditional Islamic strictures, she would elicit the hostility of radical Muslims.
Her Olympic year began with dislocation when Algeria's army deposed the president and stopped elections in order to keep doctrinaire Muslims out of power. Boulmerka's training suffered. She ran few races. "I had a lot of attention from the media because of the political situation," she said. There were rumors that extremists had threatened to assassinate her if she ran in Barcelona. She hid out at a training camp in Germany and did speed work.
In the 1991 worlds Boulmerka outkicked Lyudmila Rogachova of the Soviet Union to win the 1,500 in 4:02.21. Now, in the Olympic 1,500 final, Rogachova set a brutal, sub-four-minute pace, intending to turn Boulmerka's legs into shashlik by the last lap. Boulmerka hung on in second, but her distress was visible.
Suddenly, swarthy men in the crowd were maniacally waving green flags and singing out encouragement to Boulmerka. Algiers is only 450 miles across the Mediterranean from Barcelona, and Boulmerka might have been a character out of Iberia's Moorish past, a victim of the Inquisition, suffering torture for her beliefs. With 200 meters to run, she rose to her toes like a sprinter and ripped past Rogachova into bedlam.
Boulmerka's carved brows, blazing eyes and formidable teeth combined to create a study in wild abandon. She finished in 3:55.30. Then she became a dervish. Then we saw abandon.
"Algérie! Algérie!" she cried, pointing to her country's name on her uniform and pumping her fist in demented celebration. The force of Boulmerka's emotion simply overpowered her fatigue. Considering the social divide she was trying to bridge at home, it was almost reassuring to sec all that fury. She's going to need it.