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Putting It All On The Line
Kenny Moore
August 22, 1983
Mary Decker won two golds and Carl Lewis three in track and field's magnificent first World Championships ever
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August 22, 1983

Putting It All On The Line

Mary Decker won two golds and Carl Lewis three in track and field's magnificent first World Championships ever

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Hers was the competition's last put. It sailed 69'¾", jolting East Germany's Helma Knorscheidt, who had led at 67'11".

Fibingerova, by stages, simply broke down. At first she hugged the surprised Finnish officials. Then she came back and kissed them. When she ran after them a third time, they began to take flight. She sobbed uncontrollably on the victory stand, her face in her hands, and the Finns applauded her and toasted her for the duration of the meet.

As it happened, they were practicing for one of their own. Sacred events in Finland are the distance races and the javelin. But only one athlete had a serious chance of bringing gold to the host country. That was willowy Tiina Lillak, the women's javelin world-record holder.

But the javelin is the most delicate, least predictable of events. Britain's Fatima Whitbread threw 226'10" on her first attempt, and the pressure was on. Lillak, employing a swift run that seemed hard to control, reached only 221'4" after five throws.

She had one more. This time she stood a moment in the storm of yearning, showing blazing blue eyes and dimples of determination. Then she ran, and threw. The javelin took a worryingly high course, yet somehow it didn't stall, as some of her other throws had done. Instead, it sailed down the wind and pierced the turf at 232' 4".

It was the moment of the meet. The crowd's roar was deafening. And moving. "I haven't cried," said NBC-TV's tear-streaked production assistant Bill Norris, "since John F. Kennedy was shot."

The stadium's sustained jubilation was such that it seemed to expand beyond the celebration of this beautiful athlete. It was an expression of a small, tough people's unity of purpose and tradition, and of its embrace of everyone capable of mastering the pain and doubt and acid nerves of a genuine World Championships. Decker and Lewis and Coghlan all sensed that. "I feel half-Finnish, they understood me so well," said Decker. So as they cheered themselves hoarse, it was an impossibly magnificent conclusion. And a profoundly reassuring beginning.

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