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Fast Times In Hotlanta
Tim Layden
May 27, 1996
Despite stifling weather, a firecracker field lit up the new Olympic track with seven 1996 world bests
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May 27, 1996

Fast Times In Hotlanta

Despite stifling weather, a firecracker field lit up the new Olympic track with seven 1996 world bests

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It also represented a huge leap for Lewis, who had run a wind-aided 10.10 to win the Texas Relays on April 13 but was still not expected to make the U.S. team in the 100. Suddenly he became a gold medal contender. "Bottom line, he proved he's still good," said Drummond. The 30-year-old Mitchell's performance quieted doubts about him, too. Last year his best non-wind-aided time was only 10.12, but in September he split with coach John Smith and returned from Los Angeles to Gainesville, Fla., where he had trained during his most productive years.

Bailey, meanwhile, took no pleasure in having broken 10 seconds in a losing effort. As Lewis bounded through a staging area at one corner of the stadium, Bailey brooded nearby, seething at having been invited to the meet so late, after he'd put in a hard week of training. "I only make mistakes one time," Bailey said. "This will not happen again. I'm going to light these guys up."

Such talk is the sweet music of rivalry, the magic that track desperately needs. In the 100 there is now the promise of a nasty sub-10 fight at the U.S. trials for three Olympic spots and a riveting Games final among Bailey, Linford Christie of Great Britain, Bruny Surin of Canada, UCLA senior Ato Boldon of Trinidad, Frankie Fredericks of Namibia and whichever three Americans make the team. "Mind-boggling," said Mitchell.

Meanwhile, Michael Johnson has been without rivals or peers. Since he embarked on his personal quest to become the first athlete to win gold medals in the 200 and 400 at the same Olympics, he has competed in a vacuum. Michael versus the schedule. Michael versus his training. Michael versus world records. He has won 52 consecutive 400s and 19 consecutive 200s. Now there is the previously unexamined possibility of defeat, which only heightens the appeal of his attempt.

In Saturday's 200, Johnson caught Marsh, one of Lewis's Santa Monica Track Club teammates and—this has been largely forgotten—the defending Olympic 200-meter champion, only in the final 10 meters. Johnson won in a 1996 world best of 19.83 seconds to Marsh's eased-up 19.88. Marsh was unbowed by the loss, saying that a twinge in his right leg gave him pause as he came off the turn, with Johnson chasing him. "I don't believe anybody will catch me again if I come off the turn in front," Marsh said, failing to name the obvious name.

There's also the prospect of challenge in the Olympic 400. On Saturday, Butch Reynolds won that event in the year's fastest time, 44.33 seconds. That was far off his 1988 world record of 43.29 and also far off Johnson's 43.39 at last year's world championships, but it was quick enough to suggest that in contrast to what has happened in their recent matchups, Johnson won't swallow up Reynolds in the third 100 meters when they meet next.

Afterward Reynolds was talking, as was Morceli, of finding a place in the Southern heat to train for the Games. It was 92° on Saturday, uncommon for May in Atlanta, but ordinary for July and August. "I will have to try to work out in a warm, humid place," said Morceli.

The new stadium took some heat of its own. Upon viewing it last week, IAAF president Primo Nebiolo, who months ago had voiced concerns that it too resembled the ballpark that it will eventually become, said, "Now it will be a nice Olympic Stadium...[but] it is still a little bit baseball stadium." He is right. There is a grassy triangle beyond the finish line, where home plate will someday sit. There is a concrete trench where the first base dugout will be. There is, in general, nothing particularly Olympian about the structure, except that the Olympics will take place there.

But as Saturday's meet proved, that quality alone will make the stadium breathe.

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