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After Lewis' 7'7" leap, Paklin and Howard, who has jumped 7'6�", both missed their first attempts at 7'7". They passed their remaining tries and, looking to win, had the bar raised to 7'8", one-quarter inch above Jeff Woodard's American indoor record. Lewis took the first crack at it and missed by the thickness of his gray singlet.
Paklin, up next, stormed full-out toward the standards. Just as he began his sharp curve to the bar, however, he slipped on a cable leading from a TV camera. Paklin skidded and fell, slamming down hard on his right side in a patch of dirt that had been tracked over from the long jump pit. It was perhaps the nastiest indoor fall ever on U.S. soil.
Workers pushed back the cable and swept off the dirt, but clearly the Soviet juniper was shaken. He took his jump over and missed. Howard then failed. On their final tries all three dislodged the bar, though Paklin's effort was impressive: Had he not kicked the bar with his heels, he could have cleared 7'9".
"I think I can break the world record by the time the Olympics roll around," Lewis was saying to a cluster of reporters, virtually the only people left in the Garden at 12:15 a.m. "He could do it, too," said former Olympic high jump bronze and silver medalist John Thomas, who was on hand as marshal for the women's high jump competition. That is, if Lewis' anonymity doesn't do him in first. A few days earlier, TAC officials had nearly dropped him from the meet because they couldn't find his entry blank. "The national champion," said Kevin Ryan, manager of the New Balance Track Club, which now numbers Lewis among its members, shaking his head, "and they were going to turn his entry down."
Some things at U.S. track nationals just can't be explained, and the Soviets, too, were finding that out. When Howard and Paklin tied for second place, officials told Paklin that because they had only one silver medal left, they would flip a coin to see who would get it. Haifa dozen members of the Soviet delegation were speechless in disbelief. Paklin wasn't. "Chisto po Amerikansky," he groused. Rough translation: "So that's the American way."
Paklin was then shown a quarter. ("This is heads, this is tails.") He was beside himself. "Tails," he finally said.
"Aha, heads," grinned a tuxedoed judge, shoving the bronze at Paklin. Paklin looked at the medal as if it were a handbill advertising a 42nd Street massage parlor and stalked off, weeks of American goodwill destroyed.
But at least Bykova was pleased with her visit to the U.S. Not only had she won both meets in which she had jumped, but also while examining Olympic preparations at the Los Angeles Coliseum, she had come upon a felicitous omen. Lying on the high jump apron was a gold chain. She picked it up and took it home.
"It may be my talisman," said Bykova, in perfect English.
"So even now she has gold from Los Angeles Coliseum," said Gheskin.