He won state high school titles in the discus and the shot put, then went off to Montana State on a combined football and track scholarship. He was there only three days when he noticed something about football. "I looked at the guy ahead of me on the depth chart," Deal says. "He'd had three knee operations, and he only had two knees. That kind of wear and tear wasn't going to help me throw the discus in the Olympic Games."
Accused by the football coach of being a quitter, Deal took solace in the discus. When he won the event at a meet in 1980, it seemed his career as a discus thrower was taking off. In fact it was about to end. That summer, while working at the felicitously named Ox Sporting Goods in Casper, he saw a strange implement hanging on the wall. "I had never seen a hammer in real life before," he says. He bought it for $6 and took it home, and it gradually replaced the discus as his first love.
Deal made slow progress until 1985, when he loaded up his Volkswagen and headed for Eugene, Ore., to train with Togher, the man who would change his life. A former Scottish weightlifting champion, Togher was coaching at Oregon and spending weekends conducting hammer clinics. "I was a resident alien in a nonrevenue sport," says Togher. "What a r�sum�." To Togher. throwing the hammer is both art and science. "It's a microcosm of the solar system," he says, blue eyes burning. "You are the sun, and the ball is the orbiting planet. It's fundamental physics."
"Basically," says Deal, seeking to translate, "instead of worrying about how strong you are and what you can do to the hammer, it's how much you can get back out of the hammer."
Another part of Togher's philosophy is the importance of competing clean—without anabolic steroids. Togher and his prot�g� say that what you see is the real Deal and nothing more, all 6'2", 260 pounds of him. That was enough for Deal to do something almost unheard of at last summer's Goodwill Games in St. Petersburg: beat the Russians, who dominate the hammer, on their own turf. Not only is he the most accomplished U.S. thrower in decades, but he is also, after Togher, the event's most patient teacher, happily explaining his arcane calling to the curious. "What you saw today," he told reporters Saturday, "was an indoor hammer. It has a triangular handle, weighs 35 pounds, and is 16 inches long. Now the outdoor hammer...."
As Deal continued his discourse on the 46-inch-long outdoor model, Johnson was on the other side of the curtain settling into the blocks for the 400, an event that needs no explanation.
Though Johnson had strolled through the lobby of the Hyatt the night before in a $6,000 black fur coat streaked with white—"It's just a little mink," he insisted—he is normally the most reserved of men. A business major during his days at Baylor, he appreciates his own worth, and he knows he is seriously undervalued. Johnson has been the world's best 200 and 400 runner for almost five years, an eternity in the volatile world of the sprints.
In Saturday's 400 he roared out of the blocks and was clocked at 200 meters in 21.08, a seemingly suicidal pace. But no one came close to catching him. The only sign of strain as he drove off the final turn was a slight increase in the arch of his back.
To Johnson it was no big deal. "Nothing I've done indoors has been a revelation to me," he said. "I'm confident I will have a big outdoor season. I still think I can run around 43 flat."
At least as intriguing as that goal—which, if fulfilled, would take .29 of a second off Butch Reynolds's world record—is Johnson's ambition to win the 200 and the 400 at the world championships this August in Sweden. To accommodate such a double he has asked the IAAF to shift the schedule so there is a day of rest between those events. And already looking to '96, Johnson visited the Olympic Stadium, now under construction in Atlanta. Asked if he tried running across the finish line, he chuckled.