A lanky engineering major from Ohio, who is known to his teammates as the Monster Man, and a 256-pound former history teacher from Oregon finally unstuck a young and inexperienced U.S. track and field team that for two days had been spinning its wheels in Montreal's vast Olympic Stadium. Sunday's gold strike would have been even more spectacular, except that Rick Wohlhuter, much the premeet favorite at 800 meters, failed to win. As he strained through the stretch, Wohlhuter saw the race, the world record (1:43.50) and the gold medal go to Alberto Juantorena, the tall, burly Cuban who runs the 800 like a 400-meter man, which he was exclusively until he tried his hand at the longer distance for the first time, seriously, in May. Behind Juantorena—and ahead of Wohlhuter—came Belgium's Ivo Van Damme.
The U.S. got a world record of its own when Edwin Moses, who hammers the physics and chemistry books for a 3.57 average at Atlanta's Morehouse College, showed the world what he has been keeping to himself all along—that he's the finest 400-meter hurdler ever. Running in his tinted prescription glasses, the 20-year-old Moses burned the field in 47.64 seconds, slicing almost two-tenths off the record set by John Akii-Bua four years ago in Munich.
Only a few hours earlier, Mac Wilkins, the former teacher who holds the world record in the discus (232'6"), fell well short of that mark with a throw of 221'5". To his disappointment, that was only good enough for the gold medal.
Moses' race was a stunner. He went out with a smooth 13-step gait between hurdles. Into the last turn, as the rest of the field was adjusting its steps to a conservative 15 because of waning strength, Moses, never changing, surged far ahead. He held a huge lead going into the stretch, and only Mike Shine, the long shot from Penn State, stayed close to give the U.S. a one-two sweep.
August 1, 1976
The record came as no surprise to Moses, although he admitted he knew it would be harder without the presence of Akii-Bua, the Ugandan who left with his teammates after the Games opened. "I knew I was capable of doing it by myself," Moses said. "I just knew it would be more work without him in the race. Now I guess I'll go get the medal and relax for about a week."
"We figured Akii-Bua was the man to beat, so we decided to imitate his style," said the Rev. Lloyd Jackson, More-house's unpaid coach. "That gives us a big edge because Moses is faster for the first 200 than Akii-Bua and he's stronger from the seventh hurdle on."
Early this spring Dr. Leroy Walker, the U.S. men's track and field coach, predicted a gold medal for Moses, who had run only one intermediate hurdle race before this year; in high school he was a high hurdler. "As far back as the Florida Relays anybody who knows hurdles could tell when they first saw him that he was going to be great," said Walker after watching Moses run away from the world Sunday. "Because of his great speed workouts, his fine stride pattern, I see no reason why he can't run a half second better than he did today."
A prodigious sleeper—he put in nine hours Saturday night and then napped for four hours Sunday before the final—Moses usually gets up only to turn in some amazing workouts and eat. Last week, for instance, he ran 200 meters loosely timed in 20 seconds. The next day he ran three 200s, averaging a little more than 20. He's done 200 meters with hurdles in 20.8.
One thing his coach has had to watch is Moses' tendency to stretch out into 12 strides between hurdles. It is too punishing. Akii-Bua uses the normal 13 steps for five hurdles, changes down to 14 for the next couple and finishes with 15. "When Edwin flirts with 12," says Jackson, "we kind of have to get on him."
The 6'2", 185-pound Juantorena, who dedicated Sunday's 800-meter victory to Fidel Castro, is, of all things, an ex-basketball player. "The basketball, well, it wasn't so good for me," he says. "But I was fast, and the trainers decided to make me a 400-meter runner. That is what is so surprising. Until recently I never even thought about running the 800. It wasn't until a few months ago that I was fast enough to win a medal here in the 800. But a world record? That was really surprising. I had hoped to get a world record in the 400."
Less than a week ago, the 24-year-old Juantorena met an American in the Olympic Village. The first thing he wanted to know was how strong the U.S. 400-meter runners were. Told that Maxie Parks and Fred Newhouse were very strong, the ex-sugarcane cutter shrugged his muscular shoulders, smiled and said, "It doesn't matter. The 800 won't tire me out for the 400. It will just keep me busy until it is time to run my race."
The 800 final started easily enough, with no one forcing an overly fast pace. Then down the first backstretch Juantorena, with Wohlhuter in close pursuit, picked up the tempo. Speeding along, the pair—the small, slight Wohlhuter and the towering Cuban—offered a startling contrast. On the final backstretch the Cuban poured it on, and Wohlhuter went with him. At that moment it appeared that Juantorena, the 400-meter runner, was playing into the hands of Wohlhuter, the pure 800 stylist. Surely the Cuban was expending his strength too soon. But as Wohlhuter came on to challenge as they turned into the final stretch, Juantorena held him off. Still, Wohlhuter came on, and for 50 meters he closed gradually. Then, his muscles tightening, his face contorted, Wohlhuter slowed and Juantorena won as he pleased in 1:43.50, breaking Marcello Fiasconaro's record by .2 of a second. Coming on the outside, Van Damme passed Wohlhuter, taking away the silver medal.
Wohlhuter, who had almost been disqualified the day before because he had bumped an opponent in his semifinal, said later that he had run as hard as he could, that he had no more to give. He finished in 1:44.12.
A third world record was set Sunday, an 11.01 by Annegret Richter of West Germany in a semifinal heat of the women's 100 meters. Richter came back to win the final in 11.08, followed by defending Olympic champ Renate Stecher (East Germany) and former world-record holder Inge Helten (West Germany).
That a fourth world mark was not set in the discus was a major frustration for Wilkins, whose winning throw was his second of six. His first, which he had hoped would be (he big one, went only a skyscraping 202'8". "I wasn't very happy with that," he said. On his next one he hit the winner. Except for East Germany's Wolfgang Schmidt, there was no one in the field who could touch that.
"I thought my performance was mediocre," Wilkins said. "After my second throw, I kept trying to get the big one. I was at a point of all or nothing, and as it turned out, it was nothing. I should have thrown much farther. I was more prepared today than yesterday."
On Saturday in the preliminaries, Wilkins set an Olympic record of 224'. "I just wanted to give them something to sleep on," he said.
On Schmidt's last throw Sunday almost everything came together for him. The discus soared 217', just nosing out John Powell (215'6") of the U.S. for the silver medal. A moment later Wilkins rushed over and hoisted the happy East German high in the air.
"I was happy for him," Wilkins said. "I grabbed him because he came through with an excellent throw in a very tough situation. If Powell had made the throw, I would have done the same for him."
Nobody seemed to want to do anything for Wilkins when he arrived in Canada. His troubles began after the bearded free spirit and Shotputter Al Feuerbach opted for a private training base at Three Rivers, about 80 miles from the Olympic Village. Despite threats both veiled and overt, the pair delayed coming to the athletes' preserve in Montreal until last Wednesday, two days before the track and field events began.
"Al had been in Munich, and he told me about the hassle of an Olympic Village," Wilkins said. "Then there were the stories of 12 guys to a room, 12 guys to one toilet. Who needs that to get ready to compete?"
The two were ordered to Montreal two days before the Opening Ceremonies. Wilkins got a call from Jimmy Carnes, one of Walker's assistants. Carnes told him he had been selected for the doping test (in Wilkins' case they would be looking for steroids) and he had to report in Montreal within 24 hours.
"I played my last card," Wilkins said. "I told him I couldn't pass the test. I didn't want to go, but I didn't have anything else to say."
Walker got on the phone. "You've got to come, but we'll take care of you. You've got to believe in me; you've got to trust me."
Wilkins and Feuerbach were instructed to be in Montreal the next morning, where they would be met by team officials. They arrived at 10:30 and waited.
Finally, Al Duer, a U.S. Olympic Committee vice-president, arrived. "You two stay around," he said.
"We've got to train," Wilkins said.
"This is no request, this is an order," Duer said. "By the way, what event are you in?"
"The equestrian," said the world-record holder in the discus.
"No kidding?" said Duer.
"He's having trouble getting his horses across the border," said Feuerbach.
Duer left. Wilkins and Feuerbach had said they would wait until 2 p.m. At 2:30 they rented a car and drove back to Three Rivers. There they checked into a motel. Their stay cost them $130.
"The East Germans and the Russians were training in Quebec," said Wilkins. "The Bulgarian weight men were off someplace else in Canada. A lot of them had been selected for the doping test, but they weren't rushing off. The truth was you only had to report within 24 hours after you had checked into the Village."
After they returned to Three Rivers, Wilkins and Feuerbach called the U.S. officials. They were told to stay there, and that a story would be put out stating they were doing special training.
After four days of tranquil workouts, Wilkins and Feuerbach came in on Wednesday. Wilkins took his test on Thursday and passed.
On Friday the U.S. picked up its first track and field medal, a silver to 18-year-old Kathy McMillan, whose leap of 21'10¼" placed her behind East German Angela Voigt (22'½") in the long jump. After that, things inexplicably deteriorated for the U.S.
George Woods, twice an Olympic silver medalist, failed to make the 63'7" qualifying standard in the shotput. But because only 11 others exceeded the standard and Woods had the longest put among the nonqualifiers, he made the final; according to Olympic track rules 12 men must advance.
"I don't know what's wrong," said Woods. "I was trying my best, but nothing was working. I'll just relax and hope for a better day tomorrow."
For the U.S., Woods' tomorrow turned out to be a disaster for almost everyone. The best the shotputters could do was Feuerbach's 67'5", which left him in fourth place behind the 69'¾" throw of East German gold medalist Udo Beyer. The only other time the U.S. was shut out in the shot in the Olympics was 1936.
It is necessary to go back even further to find that the last—and only—time the U.S. had been shut out in the 100-meter dash was in 1928. That is, it was the last time before Saturday, when Harvey Glance rah 10.19 and finished fourth behind brawny Hasely Crawford (10.06) of Trinidad, Jamaica's Don Quarrie and Valery Borzov of the U.S.S.R.
Still, Saturday was not a total disaster. Wracked by stomach cramps, Kate Schmidt, who had won a surprising bronze medal in Munich, came up with a courageous 209'10" throw on her last attempt to take another bronze in the women's javelin.
Schmidt was hospitalized with bleeding ulcers for nine days in 1974. Since then she has been taking Probanthine pills before every meal. For fear of not passing the doping test, she stopped taking the Probanthine before the Games.
"And all week all I was worried about was the sex test they give the women," Schmidt said. "I was trying to figure out what I'd do if I failed. Finally, I decided I'd just call home and say, 'Hi, Mom, hi, Dad, this is your son, Kate.' "
The test that Schmidt found was no joking matter was her confrontation with Ruth Fuchs, who successfully defended the gold medal she won in Munich. The East German threw 216'4", an Olympic record. "I had the worst cramps in my stomach," Schmidt said. "I felt like I was about to throw up."
She fouled on her first two throws, which put her in danger of being eliminated. Somehow she managed 195'10" on her third throw, and that was good enough to move her into the final round of three throws. The first of these was poor; the second was a foul.
With her last throw coming up, she stayed on her feet and did a few calisthenics. Twice she flung her javelin hard into the ground. Then she wound up and fired it far enough to win her medal.
As dusk fell Sunday on the imposing yet graceful stadium that someday will be the home of the Montreal Expos, workmen came out and began putting up nets and corner flags for the night's soccer game between Poland and North Korea. Except for music from the public-address system, it was quiet. Moses, the Monster Man, and Wilkins, the monster, had taken their gold medals and departed. The track crowd had gone; the soccer fans had yet to arrive. Tomorrow there would be new heroes.