In the years since, as I have written of sport events and characters, my sensations often have been the old dry-throated ones of competition. Juiced by the likes of Mary Decker's wins in the 1983 World Championships or Daley Thompson's 1980 and '84 Olympic decathlons or Butch Reynolds's 400-meter world record last year, I have nervously beseeched my prose to be worthy of what I have witnessed. On rare occasions, performances have so taken hold of their stories that when I reread them, I ask, as I once did after a sprint that carried me past a favored opponent, "Where did that come from?"
It came from sport's capacity to define and transform, for sport does not seem to relinquish those it has molded. I try to keep that in mind when faced with the day's cocaine deaths, steroid cover-ups, collegiate hypocrisies, gambling scandals, criminal agents and Olympic boycotts. Such failings show that sport's civilizing, freeing effect on us is incomplete. Not everyone is following the rules. Not everyone is trying.
But here is an article of faith, based on knowledge of the competitive heart. Sporting people won't permit such abuses to continue indefinitely. The transforming nature of sport works even upon itself. All that saves and lifts sports are the athletes. "And the best athletes," Thompson has said, "are the ones who are free of self-destructive tendencies."
The finest ones will always be there to assist, to marvel, to safeguard, as sport continues to breathe life into the latest lumps of clay, producing its good works.