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Coming On Strong
Kenny Moore
August 05, 1996
Stirring triumphs by Donovan Bailey, Michael Johnson and Carl Lewis helped put the focus back on the athletes in Atlanta
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August 05, 1996

Coming On Strong

Stirring triumphs by Donovan Bailey, Michael Johnson and Carl Lewis helped put the focus back on the athletes in Atlanta

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The news hit Devers about the same time her coach, Bob Kersee, did. He flew out of the knot of photographers nearby and swung Devers so wildly that it seemed he was once again back in Los Angeles in 1984, falling down in violent delirium with Valerie Brisco-Hooks, whom he was coaching at the time, after her sweep of the 200 and 400 meters.

The Jamaican federation appealed the decision on Ottey's behalf, saying heads shouldn't count and that her torso preceded Devers's across the line, and for a minute it seemed that the cattiness of the male sprinters was going to slop over to the women. In Barcelona a frustrated Torrence had cut loose with unsubstantiated accusations that her competitors may not have been drug-free—accusations that caused a rift between Torrence and the Devers-Kersee camp. But on this night (Was it maturity? Was it the nearness of more important concerns?) peace prevailed.

The protest was disallowed. Devers and Torrence took a touching victory lap together, and later, together, they delivered a forceful lecture to all who would hear. "We're competitors, not rivals" said Devers. "When it's over, it's over," said Torrence, who surely had to be saddened not to do better in her hometown. But she kept her head up. "I am ecstatic," she insisted, "to get a medal."

Ecstasy like that, always hard to force, would be impossible in the shot, because either world-record-holder Randy Barnes or world-champion John Godina was going to be royally depressed about finishing second. Both were capable of 73-footers, but as round after round went by, they kept pressing and coming up five feet short. With one round left Godina had a slim lead with a put of 68'2½" and knew what was going to happen. On his last throw Barnes hit 70'11¼", and Godina, though he recognized that being part of a U.S. one-two finish was good, was bummed. "It may sound like I don't appreciate the Olympics," he said, berating himself. "But it's not that. I do. I just tried too hard."

Jackie Joyner-Kersee would, respectfully, gag. The two-time Olympic champion and world-record holder in the heptathlon came in nursing a tender hamstring that, over the ninth barrier of the opening 100-meter hurdles, started to feel like someone was digging into her left leg with a boning knife. She finished in agony and had to withdraw, leaving the gold to Ghada Shouaa of Syria, who would have been tough even if her American rival had been sound. Joyner-Kersee can only pray for a miracle before Friday's long jump.

A miracle of sorts came Monday night when Svetlana Masterkova of Russia, running a tactically superb race, upset both Ana Quirot of Cuba and Maria Mutola of Mozambique, who were reduced to the silver and bronze, in the women's 800.

The men's 110-meter hurdles did not produce an upset, but it did offer another example of a truly Olympian effort. Allen Johnson of the U.S. won the gold medal despite hitting the last six hurdles and clobbering the last one so hard that he clearly would have come away with the world record had he stayed clear. As it was, his 12.95 was an Olympic mark and missed the world record by .04 of a second. Just trailing Johnson was teammate Mark Crear, who captured the silver medal in 13.09.

And lest Michael Johnson's quest to double be the only one celebrated at these Games, Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia took the track in the last event of Monday night and raced to an Olympic record of 27:07.34 in winning the men's 10,000 meters. His second gold medal run, in the 5,000 meters, would come on Saturday in the last individual race before Sunday's men's marathon.

There can be no question that those performances—as well as that of Marie-José Pérec of France, who reprised her 400-meter gold medal performance from Barcelona—were masterful. But if anyone in the Games can truly be said to have summoned his best at precisely the right time, it was sweet Charles Austin of San Marcos, Texas. He and Poland's Artur Partyka waged a high jump duel the equal of any in history, with Austin leading by clearing all the early heights on his first tries to earn the booming allegiance of the crowd.

But with the bar at 7'9¼", Partyka cleared and Austin missed twice. That meant that even if Austin cleared on his third attempt, he would be second if neither man went higher. So he passed his last try and let the bar go to 7'10", where he would be allowed a single try while Partyka got three.

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