"I'm an American now, and this race was for America," said Plaatjes. "But I have always felt pangs of conscience over whether I should have stayed [in South Africa] and helped things change. I hope people there feel this is the victory of a native son and might be inspired."
If the marathon purged some suffering, then the men's 100-meter dash on Sunday proved that we are all hit by time's winged arrow, though you wouldn't know it by the performance of Great Britain's Linford Christie, 33, the Barcelona Olympic champion. Christie faced not only 32-year-old Carl Lewis—who in this race in 1991 had set the world record of 9.86—but also a feisty new challenger in U.S. champion Andre Cason.
At 5'7" and 154 pounds, and with a scooting stride, the 24-year-old Cason is, in the words of his sprint relay teammate Jon Drummond, "a cannonball duck." Cason tore up the prelims, running a 9.96 in his quarterfinal and a 9.94 in his semi. Christie, who won his semi in 9.97, watched it all with concern.
"Andre's times got me a bit nervous," said Christie later. "But I have been in major championships before. Andre has not. I figured to call on that experience to be able to dig a bit deeper."
At the gun the U.S.'s Dennis Mitchell, the Barcelona bronze medalist, was away first but in the process almost hurled himself out of his lane and into Cason's to his left. They probably would have collided, but Cason, out of character, had the slowest reaction to the gun of the eight finalists. After five steps he was well behind Mitchell. Christie, who starts remarkably well for a tall (6'2") man, had the lead at 40 meters.
Cason was hardly beaten. He churned into top gear and took the lead with 40 meters to go. But then Christie caught him and began to inch away.
Now all eyes turned to Lewis, the master of the late-race rush, but he was in seventh place. Lewis did close well but made it only to fourth. "I haven't been concentrating," he would say. "I should have gone home [to Houston], finished my house and taken a vacation. But this doesn't mean it's all over yet."
Christie won in 9.87, the second-fastest 100 ever run, and a scant four inches from Lewis's world record. Cason was second, in a personal best of 9.92, and was jubilant at having acquitted himself well. Mitchell, who had had to take a month off with a sore tendon, was third, in 9.99.
Drummond, who knows Christie well, feels success has matured Christie. "He always had a certain, call it imperial, air," says Drummond. "But remember, for years he got beat by Ben Johnson, Carl and Leroy Burrell. He had to be cocky to last through all that. Then he won in Barcelona and what does he hear? That he didn't deserve it because Carl had been sick at the U.S. trials and wasn't in the race. Now that's all put to rest."
Christie, pressed for perspective, was at his most mellow. In speaking of how he cares more about medals than records—"because you get to keep medals"—he seemed to wish to make the moment tangible, but he hardly craved immortality. "No, Carl is the best of all time," he said, "though I might be up there somewhere near him. It's nice to have this occasion. No one can say the best guys weren't here. I am on my way out. There will be youngsters like Andre coming in next year. It means a lot to me to do this now, at the end of an era."