It had once actually seemed a race devoid of drama. Sure, the 100-meter final on the first weekend of the World Track and Field Championships in Tokyo would bring together the two fastest legal sprinters in history, but because Leroy Burrell (9.90) and Carl Lewis (9.92) are friends who share a coach and whose mothers were sitting together at National Stadium, this could not be a race for blood or revenge or redemption. "Our relationship has grown stronger since I began beating Carl last year," said Burrell. "We're the same kind of people. Our friendship will transcend track."
Indeed, all Lewis and Burrell appeared to talk about were "personal goals" and the "challenging standards" the other set. "I see Leroy's talent every day," said Lewis. "It makes me humble. It makes me realize I have to run my own race." Burrell sang the same song.
What was more, Lewis's great antagonist of Seoul and Rome wasn't in the race. Instead, he was watching from the stands. Ben Johnson, whose world-record 9.83 in these championships in 1987 was thrown out after his '88 Olympic bust for steroids, made only the Canadian 4x100 relay squad.
The Tokyo 100, then, promised simply to be a formal passing of the torch. Lewis is 30 and has been at the top of international sprinting for a full decade, twice a normal career. His start, never strong, was weakening. It was time, he heard people say, for him to give up the 100 for the 200, in which the start is less vital.
One of those people was not his coach. "Carl's the best," said University of Houston coach Tom Tellez, who also headed the U.S. men's team in Tokyo. "He's been there. He's done it all. Leroy has run fast, but he-hasn't done what Carl has done, and you can see from the way Lewis was gaining at the end of Burrell's world-record race at the TAC nationals in June that Carl's still got speed."
"My start has been inconsistent this year," said Lewis, "in part because I know Leroy's is so good. I just have to run my own...."
Tellez's ravings about Lewis couldn't have calmed Burrell's nerves, but these are relationships built on brutal honesty. "Pressure?" said Burrell. "I've tried rather desperately to look at this like I have all the other meets I've won this year. It will be the same old people on the track."
There was a flaw in this thinking, because last Saturday, on the meet's first day of competition, as the flame atop the stadium rose orange against a moist, gray sky, it was a transformed Lewis who presented himself for his quarterfinal race. In the last 20 meters he gained nearly two meters on Great Britain's Linford Christie. Then, braking, he gave a meter back and still won in a wind-aided 9.80, the third-fastest 100 meters ever run under any conditions.
"Maybe the track has something special," Lewis said of the new polyurethane surface put down for the world meet. Then he watched as Burrell, left sitting at the start of his heat, recovered, lunging and overstriding, to win in a legal 10.11. Lewis's expression was a delicate mixture of exultation for himself and concern for Burrell's vulnerability.
On Saturday evening Lewis and Burrell talked. "Carl pushed me some," Burrell said. "I had been really anxious and didn't relax. He helped me to reconstruct myself."