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I kept thinking, 'When is it going to end?' " said Evelyn Ashford of her passage down the stretch in the World Cup women's 200 meters in Rome last Friday night. "It went on and on and on." Running in the inside lane, she had to negotiate the tightest turn of anyone in the field of nine. With 100 meters to go, she had a yard on two of the finest female sprinters in history: Barbel Wöckel of East Germany, the 1976 and 1980 Olympic champion in the 200, and Czechoslovakia's Jarmila Kratochvilova, the third woman ever to break 22 seconds in the event. Kratochvilova, who later would win the women's 400 in 48.61, a bare hundreth of a second off the world record, is a powerful woman, and her bulk, accentuated by the white uniform of the European team, loomed in menacing contrast to Ashford's litheness.
With 50 meters to go, Ashford bared her teeth. "It was hard," she would say later. "The track was slow. I felt like I was sinking instead of lifting." Yet she hung on to win in 22.18, well off her U.S. record of 21.83 and the world record of 21.71, held by Marita Koch of East Germany. Kratochvilova finished in 22.31 and Wöckel was third in 22.41. On the victory stand, Ashford stood soberly. Asked by photographers to smile, she did so halfheartedly. It was clear that her mind was elsewhere, that her task remained unfinished.
The women's 100 was on Saturday, the second day of this three-day meet. Ashford was one of two U.S. athletes with a chance to score an individual-event double in this most select of all meets, in which only one entry per team is permitted in each event and the world is compressed into nine teams, representing the U.S., East Germany, the Soviet Union and the host nation, Italy, as countries, and Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania and the Americas as regional all-star teams.
The other U.S. double hopeful was Carl Lewis, who was seeking to repeat his long-jump and 100-meter victories in the NCAA and TAC meets in June. Sixteen days before Rome, Lewis seemed a sure bet, winning a long jump in Zurich with 27'11½". That night he also had a foul into a headwind that a meet official told Lewis had measured 28'9". "And as I was thinking that over, I turned and watched Renaldo Nehemiah run his high-hurdle record of 12.93," said Lewis. "I thought I might be standing there with a world record in my own legs."
The risk of injury increases as a long-jumper tires. "I never take all six jumps," said Lewis. "But I got excited. I lost myself." And on his sixth jump he strained his right hamstring. For two weeks Lewis underwent therapy. He got in a little running, but he didn't jump. Nevertheless, the day before the World Cup he judged himself ready, as did U.S. team physician Anthony Daly and Lewis' coach at the University of Houston—and everywhere else—Tom Tellez. But just in case, Stanley Floyd would warm up for the 100, scheduled to be run 40 minutes after the start of the long jump.
"I warmed up well and ran full speed on the practice track," said Lewis. "I felt good." On his second jump Lewis sailed 26'9", a distance that would hold up for the gold medal. But in the 100 Lewis faced the rather stern competition of Great Britain's Allan Wells, the 1980 Olympic champion. After a false start and a lengthy, chilly wait, they were off.
Lewis started fine, matching Wells, though both were led by Ghana's Ernest Obeng. "At 60 meters, when I had to lift, it wouldn't work," said Lewis. "The muscle was healed, but it wasn't trained back into the system." He eased and finished last in 10.96. Wells, running with a touch of food poisoning, caught Obeng with a perfect lean to win, 10.20 to 10.21.
The 29-year-old Wells is from Edinburgh, and a man of eccentric good sense. He trains in part by punching a speed bag and only uses a starting block for his left—or "front"—foot because he feels synthetic tracks have removed the necessity for a full set of blocks. In addition, he speaks his mind, clearly. "It's not good sense to try what Lewis did," he said. "The U.S. coaches shouldn't have permitted him to compete in both events. Long-jumping with a niggling hamstring is just asking for trouble."
"The real mistake," said Lewis, "was that sixth jump back in Zurich, but trying to do better is what you live for, what you do sport for."
Lewis' bittersweet performances seemed to embody the entire World Cup for 1981, because it was a meet of superb exhibitions mixed with cases of freakish ruin. An uneven quality was imposed by the format, in which the team from Africa was weak on the field, that from Asia weak on the track. And despite new IAAF President Primo Nebiolo of Italy's urging them to compete "for the honor of their continents," the athletes didn't develop compelling team spirit. "Still, it's closer knit than I expected, considering we have to have a translator at meetings," said Sebastian Coe, who ran for the European team.