Mists were racing across a three-quarter moon when Valmon settled into the blocks. A year earlier he had been whipped by Great Britain's Roger Black on the first leg o( the relay at the world championships. Now the same two men dueled again. And Valmon smoothly built a four-meter lead in the stretch, running 44.5 to Black's 44.9. "The unsung hero," Moultrie would call Valmon. "The foundation."
Watts ran the second leg. in which teams leave their lanes and cut for the pole. I le expected traffic but found none because Valmon had put him so far ahead. Watts ran through only the crowd's involuntary gasps at his power, and he extended the U.S. lead to 20 meters. He handed off to Johnson after running 43.1, the fastest relay 400 ever. The U.S. runners were ahead of record pace. The crowd knew it and sent waxes of noise over them, great rumbling combers of sound.
Johnson runs with remarkably little knee lift. With him alone in front, it was hard to tell how fast he was going. "I knew I still wasn't 100 percent." he says. "I wasn't good at all, because it wasn't me out there."
Even as a pale shadow of himself, he ran 44.7 and added two meters to the U.S. lead. But the team was only even with record pace. The last man would decide it.
The last man was Steve Lewis, who had won the 1988 Olympic 400 when only a UCLA freshman and had endured seasons of illness and injury ever since. "Steve Lewis is my thermostat, my guarantee that the temperature won't drop," said Moultrie. "If you give him a lead, he'll either tack on to it or hold even."
He was flying. "Steve's out too fast!" Joe Douglas, the Santa Monica Track Club team manager, yelled at Carl Lewis. "Can he hold on?"
Carl caught a glimpse of Steve's face in a close-up on the scoreboard TV screen. Yes, he said to himself.
"I wanted it more than anything," Steve Lewis would say afterward. His head never bobbed, his arms never grew jerky. But his legs seemed to claw, pantherlike, at the track in the stretch as the crowd filled his head with thunder and drove him home. Steve Lewis seemed then to be running to finish what Gwen Torrence, Carl Lewis, Hassiba Boulmerka, Fermín Cacho and Dieter Baumann had started. He hit the line in 2:55.74, breaking the record by .42 of a second. His remarkable deciding leg was 43.4.
The U.S. victory lap was a vision of delirious concord. "Isn't this good?" cried Steve Lewis as he was mobbed by the guys. "Isn't this good?"
"Everyone was great when it counted," says Johnson now. "Everyone worked together. Mel Rosen kept saying all summer, 'Everything will come out in the wash.' It did. It did."