Evans, who habitually hung back early and came on when the leaders died, now could do nothing tactical, nothing but go for an unbeatable time. At the gun he was away astonishingly quickly. "It was the best start I ever got in my life," he says now. "I didn't hear the gun when I went. 'Now' and 'pow' were the same instant. They didn't call me back. I said, Thank you, and flew."
Evans was the master craftsman of his searing distance, the longest sprint. He knew that going flat out all the way, say a sub-21-second split time at 200 meters, would be suicidal. "I'd run 21.3 for the first 200 in the trials," he says, "and I felt tired in the stretch. My coach, Bud Winter, said he thought 21.6 would be best. That was because he really wanted me to do 21.4, and he knew I'd cheat on him a little."
Feeling his way by sensations most of us will never know, Evans sprinted with care. "I had my hand on the emergency brake the whole time," he says. He passed the 200 in 21.4, a nice example of delicacy under pressure. But so did James.
"Then at 200 I took off," says Evans. "I thought, The race starts now." He was convinced, feeling the force he was pouring into the track, that the last curve was the fastest section of his race. "When we hit the straight, I figured I was five yards ahead."
He was not. After the staggers had evened out, he could see James to his left, just behind him. "With Larry there, I felt the bear clawing my legs," says Evans. "I felt faint."
He had trained for this last, eternal 80 meters. He was a strength runner, a stayer. "I thought, O.K., relax...high knees...relax...arms straight ahead...relax...." Yet James, the taller, more elegant mover, held even.
"Three steps from the finish, Larry dropped his head," says Evans. "I knew I had it then. I powered through—ugh, ugh, ugh. Larry ran 395 meters. I ran 401. That was the difference."
He won in 43.86. James ran 43.97. Those remain the two fastest times ever recorded for the distance. The 4 X 400-meter relay record of 2:56.16, set two days later by Vince Matthews, Freeman (who had contributed history's fastest running-start relay leg of 43.2, after taking the bronze in the 400 with a 44.41), James and Evans, still stands as well.
At first Beamon's record was the more overwhelming. C. Robert Paul Jr., the U.S. Olympic Committee's historian, revealingly called it "terrifying."
"It is a mutation performance," said Dr. Ernst Jokl, physiologist and statistician at the University of Kentucky. "In the 33 years before 1968, the long jump record was only improved 8½ inches from Jesse Owens's 26'8¼" in 1935. At that rate, Beamon's jump is an 84-year advance."