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One, two, three, four...jummmmp," said Guy Drut as he crept along a deserted stretch of track on the outskirts of Paris like a man tiptoeing warily across a minefield. "One, two, three, four...jummmmp," he repeated, easing dreamlike through the pale of a chill, drizzly morning. "One, two, three, four...jummmmp."
Drut, holder of the world record for the 110-meter hurdles, was making like Marcel Marceau for the enlightenment of an American visitor. Though he speaks passably good English, he took to the track at the Institut National des Sports, where he once taught a course called Races and Jumps, to demonstrate certain intricacies of his craft that he felt could only be expressed in body language.
So there he was, attired in a natty tweed suit and matching tan turtleneck, languidly rolling his arms and legs through the cycle between hurdles. And each time he reached an imaginary obstacle, he paused, flapped his arms like Nureyev taking off for a grand jet� and crooned in soaring tones, "Jummmmp."
The slo-mo replay, he explained, represented the style of the old Guy Drut, the upstart Frenchman who seemingly jummmmped out of nowhere to finish second to Rod Milburn of the U.S. in the 1972 Munich Olympics. In the four years since, after endlessly studying films of the race, Drut said that he had discovered the secret of Milburn's mastery. "I was faster between the hurdles," he said, "but when I jumped I was...how do you say...floating? Yes, I was floating instead of racing over the hurdle like Milburn. He was fighting over each hurdle and that made the difference."
Knowing that, how will the new Guy Drut perform at the Montreal Games in July?
"One, two, three, four...jump!" he exclaimed, furiously grinding his way over one nonexistent hurdle after another. "One, two, three, four...jump!"
Just then a dog skittered across the track, followed by Drut's petite blonde wife Brigitte. Wearing a warm-up suit and a football jersey, she could have passed for a Southern Cal coed on her way to surfing class. But her role is to protect Drut from the demands of his large and doting public. World-record holders are as rare in France as lovers are numerous, and Brigitte, as well as the nation's press, frets about the possible ill effects that all the attention might have on the 25-year-old folk hero whom the sports paper L'�quipe calls "one of the most beautiful sports animals that France has ever known."
But Drut is clearly a man obsessed by his calling and, while spouse and dog waited, he continued his audio-visual presentation. "I have always to work on my start because I tend to wiggle like a duck," he said, wiggling like a duck. "Da dum, da dum, da dum," he said, intoning the galloping rhythm that he sings in his head as he slips into the starting blocks. "Boom! Boom! Boom!" he said, punching away like a middleweight working on the body to show the excess of his "fighting spirit."
And finally, when words and mimicry failed, Drut grabbed a pen and began drawing hurdles and working out complicated formulas based on length of stride, height of barrier, body mass and, as far as one could determine, the position of the stars. His conclusion: "I think American hurdlers like Tommie Lee White, Larry Shipp and Thomas Hill have too long legs."
It all had something to do with "the shep," Drut explained, dragging on one of the 15 or more cigarettes he used to smoke daily. The shep? "You know, baa, baa, the shep. Legs have grown longer but the space between the hurdles has not changed since people used to jump over the fences and hedges that held the shep in old England. That is how the sport began and that is how they set up the hurdles for the first Olympics in 1896, like shep fences. Since then they have widened up the distance between hurdles for the women but never for the men. So today hurdlers with too long legs can't have a natural step. The short space makes them stop from doing it."