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BRAVOS FOR A ROMAN CANDLE
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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Andrei clenched his teeth so hard it looked as if they would crack as he shot across the ring, but the sphere fell to earth at 71'4�", and G�nth�r was Switzerland's first-ever world or Olympic gold medalist in track and field. John Brenner of the U.S. took the bronze medal with 71'4�".

In the 10,000 meters, Kenya's Paul Kipkoech drove himself through some of the most devastating surges since the U.S.S.R.'s Vladimir Kuts won the 5,000 and 10,000 at the 1956 Olympics. After a slow mile Kipkoech burned a lap in 61.2, then eased back into the pack and was forgotten. But at 6,000 meters he began sprinting down every backstretch, a tactic that carried him through a 13:25 final 5,000 en route to a winning 27:38.63. He warranted an ovation from the crowd. But he finished in chaos.

The official who was operating the sign that keeps runners informed of the remaining laps had been flashing the correct number at Kipkoech, then quickly reducing it by one in order to be ready for Kipkoech the next time around. This had the effect of telling all of the Kenyan's straining pursuers that they had one less lap to go than was true. With 800 meters remaining, half the field started mistakenly sprinting. With one lap to go, runners began stopping, sure that they were finished, only to be ordered by officials to cover an additional sick, gasping, resentful circuit.

But for the mess, Hansj�rg Kunze of East Germany might have caught Italy's Francesco Panetta for second. Mexico's Arturo Barrios, Britain's Steve Binns and Switzerland's Markus Ryffel all stopped, all resumed, all deserved better. Four countries protested. The officials let the tainted results stand.

A race without controversy was the women's marathon, won by Rosa Mota of Portugal in a runaway reminiscent of Joan Benoit's win at the L.A. Olympics. Mota left all opposition after only three miles and extended her lead with every subsequent step.

This was the most beautiful marathon ever run. In golden afternoon light, the runners passed through just about every Roman square from St. Peter's to the Colosseum. The 11� miles of ancient cobblestones were hell on blisters, and it was so warm that the runners yearned to plunge into the Bernini fountains.

When Mota strode lightly down Viale dei Gladiatori and into the stadium to finish in 2:25:17, she had won by more than a mile. The time and her huge margin made her a worthy successor to Benoit as the world's reigning female marathoner.

Too, the contrasts among the 5'2", 99-pound Mota, the lithe Kostadinova and the oak-muscled Johnson caught the plural nature of their sport, the astonishing variations that track and field celebrates in human speed, endurance and strength. One basked with them in their mastery. Theirs seemed a reward as old as the setting, the knowledge that they had set high standards for ages yet to come. And for a World Championships perhaps yet to peak.

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