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Kenny Moore
September 07, 1987
Ben Johnson blazed to a record 9.83 100 meters in the World Championships
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September 07, 1987

Bravos For A Roman Candle

Ben Johnson blazed to a record 9.83 100 meters in the World Championships

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By 75 meters, Lewis could go no faster. Too much of a gap remained. Unless Johnson slowed, Lewis wouldn't catch him. But Johnson no longer tightens late. He is the complete 100-meter sprinter. He hit the finish line a meter clear.

And there was the time. The unofficial clock, which at Rome had almost always been within a hundredth of a second of the official mark, read 9.84. The wind was a legal .95 meters per second. Johnson, certain that he had taken the record, set out on a victory lap.

Lewis finished and turned and gestured toward the starter, and it was in his mind to complain that Johnson had not been recalled. Then he knew that acceptance was the order of the day, and he ran to offer Johnson his hand.

Until he saw the time, Lewis didn't think he had run very well. "I thought it might be about 10 seconds," he said. But Lewis had been clocked in 9.93 for second, which would have been his first individual outdoor world record.

Johnson's official time was 9.83. Memorize that, because 9.83 will be the 100-meter record for a long, long while. Yet Johnson's joy seemed restrained. "I'm not the guy to go crazy showing it," he said, "but I am happy. I was like this as a kid, keepin' things inside."

He agreed that what he had done ranked with Bob Beamon's 29'2�" long jump at the Mexico City Olympics. "If anyone's going to break my record," he said, "their first 50 is going to have to be awesome. They're going to have to be better than me."

Such was the tingling afterglow in the stadium following Johnson's run that only 12 minutes passed before a second world record was set. Bulgaria's willow whip of a high jumper, Stefka Kostadinova, cleared 6'10�" on her second try, showing that before anyone breaks Johnson's 9.83 a woman will high-jump seven feet. Kostadinova had escaped a loss to the U.S.S.R.'s Tamara Bykova only by scraping over 6'8�" on her final attempt. So where did she get two extra inches, except from the electric atmosphere? That mood, however, was not created by Johnson alone.

The blessing of these championships is that they are not the Olympics. The Montreal, Moscow and Los Angeles Summer Games were, as the International Amateur Athletic Federation's guidebook says, "lamed" by black African, U.S. and Soviet boycotts. But four years ago in Helsinki these worlds were begun and proved to be a superior competition without the surrounding tumult of an Olympics.

As the Rome meet began its nine-day run there were no splintering political divisions. Warring Iran and Iraq stayed away, but Israel and Palestine marched among the 165 nations represented in Saturday's opening ceremony. Moreover, because most athletes' contracts with sponsors contain healthy bonuses for wins in the worlds, there was no ducking for commercial reasons. Every able-bodied contender came to Rome and came in peak condition. The resulting competition was as fierce as the Eternal City had seen in ages, and Romans turned out in full force.

Sixty-five thousand spectators hung on every throw by Alessandro Andrei, the 6'3", 262-pound policeman from Padua who was the 1984 Olympic shot-put champion. With one round of throws remaining, Switzerland's Werner G�nth�r led the event with 72'7". Andrei was second with 71'9�". G�nth�r, a rangy 6'7" and 273, stepped into the ring and was engulfed in catcalls and whistling. Expressionless, he launched the 16 pounds of steel 72'11�". If Andrei, now in the ring for the last throw of the competition, were to fall short by just a few inches, he would have only his own crowd to blame.

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