As they warmed up and stretched, they watched the UCLA women's 4 X 400 relay team race with pride but with little chance of salvaging the team championship that they had been favored to win. Senior phenomenon Gail Devers had had a rocky meet, and as Devers went, so descended the Bruins.
The owner of the best marks in the field in the long jump, 100-meter hurdles and 100 sprint. Devers began by being nipped in the long jump by George Mason's Nena Gage, 21'8�" to 21'6". In four illustrious point-amassing years, Devers still had never won an individual NCAA championship. "I'll refuse to let her leave here without a title," declared UCLA women's coach Bob Kersee. "She's too good an athlete."
In the 100, Devers at last was supreme. She led every step, building a huge lead in the second 50. "When I got to the end," she said, "I couldn't control my feet. I figured I must be going pretty fast." Her 10.86 was under the college record of 10.94, set in 1983 by Diane Williams, but it won't stand as a record because the wind exceeded the allowable 2.00 meters per second.
An hour later, Devers was in the blocks for the 100 hurdles, for which she shares the U.S. record of 12.61 with her coach's wife, Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Her left leg was gaudily encircled with tape and blue foam to pad the bruises she gets when, as often happens, her trailing leg clips the barriers.
Devers started well, though Arizona State's Lynda Tolbert kept close. At midrace, here came Tennessee's LaVonna Martin flying. Devers nicked the eighth hurdle and clobbered the ninth. Tolbert shot past to win in 12.82 and burst into amazed tears. Martin's 12.85 put Devers's 12.90 in third.
"Things happen," said Devers dryly, and this particular thing cost UCLA anticipated points and helped LSU win the team championship.
LSU was led by Schowonda Williams, who won the 400-meter hurdles in 55.53. The Tigers had no other winners, just a host of seconds, thirds and fourths. But in the NCAAs, it is usually better to be deep than brilliant.
Going into the last event, the 4 X 400 relay, UCLA trailed LSU, 53 to 48, but still had a shot at the team title. Devers contributed a strong 51.4 second leg and watched as teammate Janeene Vickers pulled out a stirring victory, 3:29.82 to 3:29:93, over—guess who—LSU's anchor, the indefatigable Williams. LSU's strong showing meant only a two-point swing to UCLA, and the Tigers won the women's half of the meet, 61 to 58.
The UCLA men had salted away the team title long before the men's 4 x 400 relay. The quarter-milers would run at their barrier for coach and friendship. "All the credit goes to John Smith," said Lewis, but Lewis deserved plenty for a smooth opening leg from the eighth lane, where he ran blind to what anyone else was doing. His split: 45.0.
Lewis handed the baton to Young, who was passed on the inside by Florida's Dennis Mitchell. A stiff north wind blew against them in the backstretch. "It was tricky," said Young. "You had to run just hard enough to cut through it without killing yourself." He repassed Mitchell and strode in evenly at 44.4.