Somehow, the confusion did not seem to affect O'Brien's concentration. That first day he also long jumped 26'1½", put the shot 52'8¼", cleared 6'9¾" in the high jump despite a lengthy rain delay and ran 47.70 for the 400. O'Brien's first-day total was 4,747 points, making him the first person to break 4,700 on one day and putting him a staggering 478 points ahead of defending champion Dave Johnson, who was in second place.
This was remarkable progress for someone who, just four years ago, seemed to be going nowhere. "I didn't really do things I could go to jail for," said O'Brien, casting about for examples of his misspent youth in Klamath Falls, Ore. "I did get five F's one semester [in college]."
The decathlon structured his life. "If I don't do something all day," he says, "I'm going to mess around."
His discipline was never as apparent as in Thursday's pole vault, which has been O'Brien's downfall in past meets. At last year's TAC meet in Norwalk, Calif., he barely cleared 14'1¼", doing so with all the grace of a drunken sailor falling out of bed. Last week, despite the swirling winds, O'Brien cleared personal bests three times, topped by 16'8¾", best in the competition.
To surpass—even unofficially—Thompson's world record total of 8,847 points, O'Brien needed only to run the final event, the 1,500, in 4:44.94. That is more than a second slower than he ran at last year's championships. But the pace lagged in the third lap, and O'Brien all but walked across the line to finish in 4:45.54. His score of 8,844 was 377 points more than runner-up Johnson's, and it would have easily broken Jenner's American record of 8,634. "It's a mental thing with him," said Mike Keller, O'Brien's coach, referring to his charge's 1,500 performance. "He's a sprinter." Yes, but at 6'2", 180 pounds, O'Brien is not nearly as heavily muscled on top as either Johnson or Thompson. O'Brien is lean enough to inspire hope that he'll one day run a respectable 1,500.
"He's pretty raw in most things he does," said Thompson. "I see him as a 9,500 man. He could be anything he wants to be. That's the great thing about youth."
Jackie Joyner-Kersee was an easy winner in both the heptathlon (6,878 points) and the long jump (22'8"), in spite of a nagging groin injury. The hazardous conditions did nothing to put her husband and coach, Bob, in a good mood. "TAC has got the athletes handcuffed," he said. "If it weren't for the World Championships, most of the athletes would have seen this, turned around and gone home."
The athletes clearly were ready. This was without doubt the best U.S. track meet since the '88 Olympic trials. On Friday, Greg Foster, 32, winner of the last two World Championships, defeated his old nemesis, Renaldo Nehemiah, 32, in the 110 hurdles, in 13.31. Then, during a three-hour span on Saturday afternoon, seven athletes turned in world-leading marks for 1991, including Danny Harris (47.62) and Kim Batten (54.18) in the 400 hurdles; Antonio Pettigrew (44.36) and Lillie Leatherwood (49.66, fastest by a U.S. woman in nearly six years) in the 400s; Mark Everett (1:44.28) in the 800; and Mark Croghan (8:21.64) in the 3,000 steeplechase.
Still, it was Lewis, 10 years after winning his first national title, who gave the crowd its biggest thrill on Saturday. He had won 64 straight long jump competitions, dating back to 1981, when Larry Myricks defeated him at the national indoor championships. Lewis's '88 Olympic teammate Mike Powell had come close to ending the streak last summer, falling 1½" short at the Goodwill Games.
Lewis's first jump on Saturday was a ho-hum 27'2½". Powell, who followed him in the jumping order, sprinted down the runway, hit the board and broke the sand 28'1¼" away. Lewis was going to have to work.