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August 8: A Day of Glory
Kenny Moore
December 28, 1992
As evening fell at Olympic Stadium in Barcelona, track and field athletes and a delirious crowd gave sport its most memorable moments of 1992
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December 28, 1992

August 8: A Day Of Glory

As evening fell at Olympic Stadium in Barcelona, track and field athletes and a delirious crowd gave sport its most memorable moments of 1992

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Through the ecstasy and tears for Cacho, almost unnoticed at first, ran the 5,000-meter runners. At 3,000, six men were in contention. Five were Africans. Africans had won every Olympic men's distance race save the 1,500. "It is obvious that there is an African dominance," Germany's Dieter Baumann, the lone European still hanging on in the 5,000, said after the race. "But if you get preoccupied with it, it's harder to beat them."

The 5,000 was part of a burst of track and field's circuslike multiplicity, with Jan Zelezny of Czechoslovakia launching his javelin to an Olympic-record 294'2" and Germany's Heike Henkel jumping ever better as the bar went higher. But before she tried 6'7½", the height that would make her the Olympic champion. Henkel sat on the outside of the track and groaned for her countryman Baumann as he came by with 300 meters to run.

That was because Baumann was horribly boxed in by world champion Yobes Ondieki and Paul Bitok of Kenya, Fita Bayissa of Ethiopia and 1988 Olympic 10,000 champion Brahim Boutaïb of Morocco. All four reached the homestretch and were sprinting all out before Baumann found room to move. Then the crowd came up shrieking at the greatest recovery of the Games. Baumann went wide past Ondieki and set off after the three others, who were fanned out ahead. He took Boutaïb and then Bayissa on the inside, and then he had to cut sharply out again. He caught Bitok 12 meters from the end and won by a meter and a half.

Immediately Henkel got up, ran at the bar and sailed over by two inches, completing a bright golden flare of German success. Her wave as she stood happily on the foam pit was incongruously mild, as if it was good to win, but a nap would be nice too. Later it would seem that Henkel's composure and the next race, the women's 4 X 400 relay, constituted dramatic pauses before a surpassing climax.

In the relay Torrence, returning to run the second leg for the U.S., ripped her 400 in 49.8 to take the lead from a strong Unified Team, and Jearl Miles held it with a 49.5, but 1988 Olympic 400 champion Olga Bryzgina was too strong for Rochelle Stevens. The Unified Team won 3:20.20 to 3:20.92. "It would have been nice to anchor," said Torrence. "I'd have loved to do another walking down. But I never asked. Hey, I was honored just to be running four events."

Not every U.S. male quarter-miler was so uncomplicated. The maneuvering before the men's 4 X 400 had taken a full cantankerous year. It was sparked by a U.S. loss in the 1991 world championships when Great Britain's 400-meter hurdler Kriss Akabusi overhauled world 400 champion Antonio Pettigrew in the stretch of the anchor leg.

"The English kids just ran out of their minds," says Rosen. "It was one of those things. But when I got home, here was that relay stuck in everyone's craw. I thought, Well, I guess we have to win the Olympic 4 x 400 relay. I guess we gotta run Michael Johnson."

The U.S. rules in effect at the time required the relay team to be made up only from the top finishers in the 400 in the trials. Johnson, although ranked No. 1 in the world in the 400 for two straight years, had run only the 200 in the qualifying meet for the worlds and planned to do the same at the Olympic trials. In December 1991, TAC's international-competition committee empowered the coach to include in the relay qualified athletes who had not run the individual 400 trials. Johnson duly ran pre-Olympic 400s of 44.23 and 43.98. "After that," says Rosen, "I said he'd be considered for the relay. But still we wouldn't make up our minds until we saw the individual Olympic races."

At the Olympic trials in New Orleans, Johnson won the 200 in near-world-record time. Danny Everett and Steve Lewis (no relation to Carl) of the Santa Monica Track Club went one-two in the 400 and immediately began voicing displeasure with Rosen's selection policy.

"I believe it was insulting to the rest of the 400 men," says Everett now, "to imply that we could-not win without Michael Johnson and weren't intelligent enough to sec that this 'policy' was for Michael Johnson alone, Steve and I were supporting other people on the team,, specifically the guy on the bubble, Andrew Valmon. It was unfair for him to place fourth in the trials and not be assured of a spot."

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