- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Let's leave the blood that hurdler Greg Foster left on the track for later. Instead we'll begin with the beauty: Here crouched in their blocks were the finalists in the women's 200 meters in the first World Indoor Track and Field Championships in Indianapolis. In Lane 4, Heike Drechsler of East Germany lowered her head until her fluffy curls almost brushed the track. It seemed almost to be a gesture of submission, as if she were baring the long white nape of her neck to an executioner's ax. Thus she accepted her impending effort. This would be the first indoor 200 final of her 22 years.
Set. Drechsler rose, becoming at once a creature of magnificent levers. Her hip flexors, the muscles that lift the knees, bunched in mounds at the tops of her thighs. She is the outdoor co-record holder at this distance with 21.71, but the indoor record of 22.39, set by her countrywoman Marita Koch in 1983, seemed safe. The compact Koch was far better suited to tight indoor turns than the rangy 5'11" Drechsler. Moreover, just minutes earlier. Drechsler had won the long jump with a 23'3½" effort (down from her eight-day-old world record of 24'¼" set in New York), and the day before, she had run a 200 heat and semifinal.
Bam! Drechsler came out well, but inside her, in Lane 3, so did Merlene Ottey-Page of Jamaica. At the top of the backstretch the banked curve allowed those in the outside lanes a few meters of downslope, which Drechsler used gratefully, blasting ahead. Then she fought her way around the last turn and finally reached the 50-meter stretch. Her lead was two meters. Ottey-Page began to lean back. Drechsler, teeth bared, leaned forward. That worked better. She toppled over the line with a four-meter margin. In her first try, running tired, she had broken the world 200 record by .12 second with 22.27.
Drechsler's was the gaudiest of six world records set in Indianapolis, including marks in the men's and women's walks and a women's high-jump mark of 6'8¾" by Stefka Kostadinova of Bulgaria. Together they served to make real the promise of this new championship, as well as to demonstrate that when great athletes bend too blithely to all-out effort, they risk the brink.
Observe Ben Johnson. He bolted cleanly ahead in the 60-meter final, only to be called back and blamed for a false start. Wrongly. The starter had misread the sensor that records when the sprinters have reacted to the gun. Johnson has a temper, but he realized this wasn't the time to argue. "I figured, O.K., if that's what you say I did, then I'm not going to let you influence me," Johnson said later. "I'm not going to get cautious. It's going to be all or nothing."
It was all. On the restart he came out hard and pulled away with every stride to win in a world-record 6.41, .03 less than his 6.44 set in January.
But beyond the finish, Johnson was still decelerating when he reached the waist-high, padded restraining wall. He took it in the stomach and found himself executing a flip over the rail and into the unknown. He fell three feet and landed on his back on the concrete floor, but such is his cannonball constitution that he popped right up. apparently unhurt.
"This was effortless," he said, meaning the race, and who could disbelieve him? "I don't want to go too fast now, no matter what the meet."
Indoor track, particularly as practiced in the U.S., has seldom been seen as much more than a circus by the world at large. The tracks are shoehorned into odd-shaped arenas; they measure anywhere from 5 to 12 laps to the mile, are banked or flat, boards or urethane, bouncy or dead. The tight turns make it hell to pass and reward the cunning, not necessarily the quick.
Lately, however, 200-meter indoor tracks have become the standard in Europe, and the sport has grown so popular that this year the IAAF began recognizing records and authorized a world championship meet, to be held every other year. Thus the world's best, or that percentage who figured they were in shape, came to Indianapolis, where they found such a track, a 200-meter marvel covered with a rubberized surface, set in the 60,000-seat Hoosier Dome. All in all, it was a setting so spacious that it almost seemed outdoors.