Except for the location, Atlanta instead of Eugene, Ore., it could have been the 100-meter final of the Olympic Trials, not the Martin Luther King Games. Indeed, the race went just about the way everyone expects the Trials to go in late June. Running with killer instinct for the first time this year, as he said he would, Steve Williams burned to yet another 9.9, giving him five ties for the world record, and in doing so, swept aside the challenges of such strong young chargers as Harvey Glance and Ed Preston, who finished second and third, and Houston McTear, who came in a disappointing seventh.
When the race was over, Williams turned and sped almost as quickly back to Glance, Auburn's effervescent freshman, to apologize. No, not for winning, but for snatching the tape at the end of the race and firing a look back toward those less swift than he.
"Hey, I didn't mean nothing by that, baby; it just happened," Williams said, embracing his smaller, more muscular rival. "We got to have a few beers, you and me and McTear, and start putting our stuff together for the Games."
Less than an hour later Williams was a winner again, this time in the 200-meter. His time was 19.9, a tenth off the world record, and again Glance was second, Preston third. For a man who has said that he intends to win four gold medals at Montreal, it was a mighty impressive performance.
May 30, 1976
At dinner the night before with Vicki Smith, a tall and pretty shotputter from Florida State, Williams had predicted that the 100-meter race would make the rest of the world painfully aware of the overall strength of American sprinters.
"Tomorrow will change the whole complexion of the sprint Games," he said. "The world is going to wake up and see the times and say, 'Oh, oh, those guys have really got their stuff together.' And a few guys ducked this race. It is quite possible fifth place could be 9.9. Those guys can look back then and say, 'Wow, I should have been there.' "
Among the missing were Reggie Jones, who ran a 10 flat behind Don Quarrie's 9.9 at the California Relays later that day, and Steve Riddick, who had a 10.33 in Florence, Italy earlier in the week. The way Williams was running, it hardly mattered, although he himself was less than satisfied.
"The first part of the race was just terrible," Williams said. "I ran like a spectator. I was too concentrated on how the other runners were doing. I kept looking to the side at Glance. And I kept trying to peek around to see what McTear was doing."
He didn't have any trouble seeing the 5'8" Glance, who has run two 9.9's, and who got away quickly to lead most of the race. McTear stayed with him halfway, then slowed abruptly and was swallowed up in the field.
The last six weeks have been discouraging for McTear. For one thing, his coach, Will Willoughby, was involved in some legal difficulties, and the 19-year-old sprinter missed two weeks of training. In addition, having turned down an offer to play football at the University of Florida, he has taken a battering by the state's newspapers.
"What we have done with McTear is create a phenomenon," said Brooks Johnson, Williams' coach at the Florida Track Club. "And now we are trying to devour it. It's unfair for grown men to gang up on a 19-year-old. The kid has had a lot of pressure on him."
Williams has been going to Johnson for counsel since 1973. Then last December he moved to Gainesville, Fla. from San Diego so they could work together full-time. The first thing Johnson did was to get out some video tapes of Williams' races. Together they analyzed his form frame by hand-turned frame.
"I was shocked," Williams said before the race. "I never realized how bad I was. I had been winning by accident, overcoming bad form purely by strength. I was overstriding, with my feet always ahead of my body. That's what you do when you want to stop, not go. My arm motion was bad; I was running with my shoulders up around my ears. Since then I've totally concentrated on technique, and still won by accident. Tomorrow will be the first time I've stepped out where I will totally rely on killer instinct."
Which he did. While Williams was winning and McTear struggling, Glance and Preston, a 20-year-old sophomore at Arkansas State, were establishing themselves as solid favorites to make the U.S. Olympic team. Glance, overtaken by Williams in the last 10 meters, finished in 10 flat; Preston, running on a track he felt was too soft, in 10.3.
Glance had said he would run as he always has, fully relaxed, waiting for his strength to make him dominant over the last 30 meters. A 145-pounder, he bench-presses 305 pounds. Something is working for him. He was a 9.4 sprinter in high school last year, and has since won the NCAA 60-yard indoor championship, plus recording the two 9.9s.
"But I'm not taking anything for granted," he said. "Before the Trials I'm going to run the junior championships. I want to represent my country somewhere this year."
As a ninth-grader he had watched the 1972 Olympics on TV. Every time they played the national anthem, he sang all of the words. "I saw all those guys wearing USA uniforms and I fantasized myself in one of those outfits."
On Friday the 6'1", 177-pound Preston eased through a light workout. Then he found a spot in the bleachers, shaded from the hot Georgia sun. He has run the fastest automatically timed 100 meters this season, a 10.07 at the Texas Relays. "I guess that makes me the fastest so far," he said. "The rest all have handheld times, which is worth an extra two-tenths of a second. I came here thinking I can win but it won't bother me if I don't. I'd like to run a 9.9."
Nearby, Guy Kochel, Preston's coach at Arkansas State, shook his head.
Preston laughed. "I'm just better than these guys, coach."
Kochel shrugged. "If you get away early I don't believe they'll run you down."
It went the other way. Preston got off to a slow start. There had been two false starts, both caused by Robert Woods of Grambling. One was blamed on faulty blocks and dismissed. Under the meet rules, the first false start would be charged against the field. The next one would remove the offender from the race. It made for a cautious field.
"There was too much politicking and not enough concentration on the part of the other guys," said Preston. He was sixth after 30 meters, then began to make up a lot of distance on the field.
"There are some guys you just don't make up on," Kochel said. "Guys like Williams and Glance."
With 40 yards to go and Glance in front, Williams decided he had better concentrate on the race rather than on his rivals. He began to lift, and with some 10 meters to go he passed Glance.
"He's a monster," said Glance with admiration. "A real horse. At the 100-yard mark he pulled up and then those long legs just started rolling. And I thought I was strong."
Maybe it's a case of knowing what you want. Williams wants those four gold medals: in the 100, the 200, and two relays—400 and 1,600 meter—something no man has ever done. The only race he'll run between now and the Trials is the 400 in the AAU championships at Los Angeles. Williams hopes that with a good time he will convince the U.S. coaches that he deserves a spot on the 1,600-meter relay team. It would be a tremendous feat.
At dinner Vicki Smith had described two recent automobile accidents she had been in. She said she certainly hoped she didn't have a third. Then she laughed and asked Williams if he'd like to take a ride with her.
"No," he said with unusual seriousness. "God and me are not going to meet until after I've won a gold medal."