When the NCAA track and field championships returned last week to the University of Oregon's Hay ward Field after a four-year absence, they found a remodeled 400-meter track and a crowd high with anxiety. Would $1.5 million worth of wider turns and new urethane surface produce performances so good that Eugene could lure back in 1992 what it lost this year to Indianapolis: the Olympic trials?
The track was certainly fast. Witness Joe DeLoach of Houston winning the 100 in 10.03, swiftest in the world this season. But the real test would be in the 200, the race most discombobulated by the old track's wrenching 100-yard bends. "It's always a choice between slowing down or spinning out," Carl Lewis said at the 1986 TAC meet there.
So it was that Lorenzo Daniel of Mississippi State put a lot of fears to rest, including his own, when he ripped freely through the turn and won in 19.87, a collegiate record. Suddenly Daniel, 22, is the fifth-fastest 200 man ever, which is sobering when you recall that the top four are Pietro Mennea, Lewis, Tommie Smith and Don Quarrie—Olympic gold medalists all. "The turn won it for me," said Daniel.
"Ah, these turns—wish I'd had em," said a wistful UCLA sprint coach, John Smith, who set a world record in the 440 yards (44.5) at the 1971 AAU meet in Eugene. But Smith brought more to the nationals than memories. He had in tow the best set of quarter-milers any university has ever gathered, groomed and gloried in.
They were, in the order they would run the concluding 4 X 400-meter relay:
? Steve Lewis, a 19-year-old freshman from Fremont, Calif. At the Pac-10 meet last month, Lewis would have set a world junior record with his 44.65 if he had been given a urine test after the race. In Eugene, Lewis ran second in the 400 with 44.83.
? Kevin Young, a 6'4" senior from Los Angeles, who on Friday won the 400-meter hurdles by an astounding 20 meters, the largest winning margin ever by an intermediate hurdler in the NCAAs. His 47.85 made him sixth-fastest in history and guaranteed that one magnificent U.S. hurdler will be crushed at the trials, because Edwin Moses. Danny Harris. Andre Phillips and Young can't all go to Seoul.
? Danny Everett, a 6'2", 155-pound length of electrical tubing from L.A., who won the 400 going away in 44.52. "He came to UCLA at 6'2" and 140 pounds," said head coach Bob Larsen of Everett, now a junior. "And we had to think. That's more an 800-meter body than a 200-meter one. But then we saw the speed." Everett's 44.34 and 20.23 at the Pac-10 meet was the fastest 400/200 double ever.
? Henry Thomas, a 6'2" junior from Hawthorne, Calif., who finished third in the 200. behind Daniel and Atlee Ma-horn of Cal. in 20.25, and who anchored UCLA's 4 X 100-meter relay to a 39.04 second place behind Texas A & M's 38.84.
These four men were pledged to break a once-inconceivable collegiate barrier in the 4 x 400 relay. They wanted three minutes. A sub-45-second average. "We tried last year and blew it," said Smith. In 1987, with Anthony Washington in place of Lewis, UCLA had run a collegiate record 3:00.55 (the world record is 2:56.16). They decided this was the time and place.