"I knew I had to attack the tape," said Kingdom. His teeth were clenched on his final two strides. He finished 2� meters in front of Jackson, who was second, and looked up at the stadium clock. He saw a strange number: 12.89. "At first it didn't register," said Kingdom. "Then I realized that that clock had never been more than one or two hundredths off."
In fact, it was off by .03. Kingdom was given credit for 12.92, and one of track's most respected world records had fallen. Kingdom jumped and twisted and danced halfway around the turn, pumping his arms crazily. He then ran back to the people who understood his achievement best, the men he had just beaten. He was wrapped in a muscular embrace by Foster, who had come in fifth, as the other hurdlers swarmed around them. "It's about time you got it," Foster told Kingdom. "Now take that lap."
"I was almost too tired to take it," said Kingdom. "I was hyperventilating." For many of the 24,000 fans, simply applauding was not enough. They raised their hands over their heads and clapped rhythmically as Kingdom took his victory lap.
One person who could not have been too surprised by Kingdom's performance was Nehemiah. Last summer at the Olympic trials in Indianapolis, Nehemiah had said, "The days of the pretty hurdler are over. It's getting the job done [that counts]. The day hurdlers overcome their fear, and are willing to take risks, that's when you'll see another sub-13."
Kingdom is not the most elegant of hurdlers but must surely now be judged the greatest. Not only does he have two Olympic gold medals, a distinction he shares with Lee Calhoun, who won the 110-meter hurdles at the 1956 and '60 Games, but he also has run fast more consistently than anyone else.
"I know," said Kingdom after setting the record, "that 12.85 is possible. And if I can run a more aggressive race with the same start, or better, I can get down to around 12.79."
But the race he had just been a part of reminded Kingdom that if you are lucky, you run against not only the clock but also other athletes. "I ran my strongest race," he said, "against the strongest competition I have ever had."
No doubt Arturo Barrios would have appreciated some company two nights later in Berlin. En route to smashing the world 10,000-meter record, Barrios followed Doug Padilla and then Steve Plasencia, both of the U.S., for half of the race's 25 laps before pushing on alone through the cool night as 35,000 voices pleaded for him to keep going. Barrios crossed the finish line in 27:08.23, more than five seconds faster than Fernando Mamede's 1984 mark of 27:13.81. Barrios, 25, is the first Mexican runner to set a world record. For a moment after the race he looked remarkably fresh. Then, as if he too had been oblivious to the toll such efforts take, he collapsed.
For one man the very notion of strong competition is oxymoronic. That would be Morocco's Said Aouita, who proved on Sunday afternoon in Cologne, West Germany, that he can turn any race into a time trial. The 29-year-old Aouita had seemed more vulnerable this year than ever before. In June he had lost a 5,000-meter race for the first time in 10 years to Yobes Ondieki of Kenya, and had been left to clutch at foolish excuses. He was rumored to be ducking stiff competition. Anyone who knows Aouita knows those whispers must have rankled him. He needed to do something special.
The 3,000-meter mark of 7:32.1, established by Rono in 1978, was the longest-standing individual track record. "It is the hardest of all world records to get," said Aouita, who is more qualified to pass judgment than anyone else, having come within 1.2 seconds of Rono's time on four previous occasions. Aouita's nearest miss had come on the same track in Cologne three years ago. Needing a final lap of 56.7, he had produced only a 56.83. His time, 7:32.23, was so maddeningly close that it left him shaking his head.