I kept thinking, 'When is it going to end?' " said Evelyn Ashford of her passage down the stretch in the World Cup women's 200 meters in Rome last Friday night. "It went on and on and on." Running in the inside lane, she had to negotiate the tightest turn of anyone in the field of nine. With 100 meters to go, she had a yard on two of the finest female sprinters in history: Barbel W‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áckel of East Germany, the 1976 and 1980 Olympic champion in the 200, and Czechoslovakia's Jarmila Kratochvilova, the third woman ever to break 22 seconds in the event. Kratochvilova, who later would win the women's 400 in 48.61, a bare hundreth of a second off the world record, is a powerful woman, and her bulk, accentuated by the white uniform of the European team, loomed in menacing contrast to Ashford's litheness.
With 50 meters to go, Ashford bared her teeth. "It was hard," she would say later. "The track was slow. I felt like I was sinking instead of lifting." Yet she hung on to win in 22.18, well off her U.S. record of 21.83 and the world record of 21.71, held by Marita Koch of East Germany. Kratochvilova finished in 22.31 and W‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áckel was third in 22.41. On the victory stand, Ashford stood soberly. Asked by photographers to smile, she did so halfheartedly. It was clear that her mind was elsewhere, that her task remained unfinished.
The women's 100 was on Saturday, the second day of this three-day meet. Ashford was one of two U.S. athletes with a chance to score an individual-event double in this most select of all meets, in which only one entry per team is permitted in each event and the world is compressed into nine teams, representing the U.S., East Germany, the Soviet Union and the host nation, Italy, as countries, and Africa, Asia, Europe, Oceania and the Americas as regional all-star teams.
The other U.S. double hopeful was Carl Lewis, who was seeking to repeat his long-jump and 100-meter victories in the NCAA and TAC meets in June. Sixteen days before Rome, Lewis seemed a sure bet, winning a long jump in Zurich with 27'11½". That night he also had a foul into a headwind that a meet official told Lewis had measured 28'9". "And as I was thinking that over, I turned and watched Renaldo Nehemiah run his high-hurdle record of 12.93," said Lewis. "I thought I might be standing there with a world record in my own legs."
The risk of injury increases as a long-jumper tires. "I never take all six jumps," said Lewis. "But I got excited. I lost myself." And on his sixth jump he strained his right hamstring. For two weeks Lewis underwent therapy. He got in a little running, but he didn't jump. Nevertheless, the day before the World Cup he judged himself ready, as did U.S. team physician Anthony Daly and Lewis' coach at the University of Houston—and everywhere else—Tom Tellez. But just in case, Stanley Floyd would warm up for the 100, scheduled to be run 40 minutes after the start of the long jump.
"I warmed up well and ran full speed on the practice track," said Lewis. "I felt good." On his second jump Lewis sailed 26'9", a distance that would hold up for the gold medal. But in the 100 Lewis faced the rather stern competition of Great Britain's Allan Wells, the 1980 Olympic champion. After a false start and a lengthy, chilly wait, they were off.
Lewis started fine, matching Wells, though both were led by Ghana's Ernest Obeng. "At 60 meters, when I had to lift, it wouldn't work," said Lewis. "The muscle was healed, but it wasn't trained back into the system." He eased and finished last in 10.96. Wells, running with a touch of food poisoning, caught Obeng with a perfect lean to win, 10.20 to 10.21.
The 29-year-old Wells is from Edinburgh, and a man of eccentric good sense. He trains in part by punching a speed bag and only uses a starting block for his left—or "front"—foot because he feels synthetic tracks have removed the necessity for a full set of blocks. In addition, he speaks his mind, clearly. "It's not good sense to try what Lewis did," he said. "The U.S. coaches shouldn't have permitted him to compete in both events. Long-jumping with a niggling hamstring is just asking for trouble."
"The real mistake," said Lewis, "was that sixth jump back in Zurich, but trying to do better is what you live for, what you do sport for."
Lewis' bittersweet performances seemed to embody the entire World Cup for 1981, because it was a meet of superb exhibitions mixed with cases of freakish ruin. An uneven quality was imposed by the format, in which the team from Africa was weak on the field, that from Asia weak on the track. And despite new IAAF President Primo Nebiolo of Italy's urging them to compete "for the honor of their continents," the athletes didn't develop compelling team spirit. "Still, it's closer knit than I expected, considering we have to have a translator at meetings," said Sebastian Coe, who ran for the European team.
Coe demonstrated his mastery in universally understood terms, namely the 12.1 seconds it took him to scorch the last hundred meters of the 800, which he won easily in 1:46.16. James Robinson of the U.S., boxed in until just before the final turn, battled past Detlef Wagenknecht of East Germany for second, 1:47.31 to 1:47.49.
Things were slightly more eventful for Coe's countryman, Steve Ovett, in the 1,500. After Sydney Maree of the U.S. had taken the pace through 800 in 1:57.7, Africa's Mike Boit went sharply ahead. "It's much better to lose because you run out of energy than to lose because you lack the speed at the end," Boit said. His intent was not to lose, but to have both himself and Ovett staggering by the stretch. At the bell, Ovett moved from fifth to Boit's shoulder. "Well covered," said Coe, watching intently from the press seats. Boit gave it his best in the backstretch but Ovett's sprint off the last turn was just as decisive as Coe's had been in the 800, and he won in 3:34.95. Boit did indeed suffer in the stretch and was passed by Oceania's John Walker and East Germany's Olaf Beyer. Ovett defied the curious IAAF discouragement of victory laps and blew a kiss—which narrowly missed Coe—toward the press section.
Later, Ovett consented to speak at length to reporters, a thing he hasn't done after a major race since 1977. This startled one journalist into saying, "You don't look at all mean."
"Just a veneer," said Ovett, which is true.
"Is this big rivalry between Ovett and Coe simply a fabrication of the press?" he was asked.
"Yes," he said. "It's just that we're different people. I don't see the guy from one month to the next." Of the victory lap, Ovett said that rather than stealing adulation in an event in which he and Coe share preeminence, his postrace gesture had simply been an opportunity to show his thanks to the crowd, which numbered 165,000 over the meet's three days.
The Roman legions weren't too pleased with Cliff Wiley's demonstration of how to steal the 400 meters because he stole it from Italy's Mauro Zuliani. Wiley, a former dash man who ran a leg on the world-record-setting U.S. 4 x 100-meter-relay team in the 1977 World Cup, has gone to the 400 seriously just this year. "But I've run the 200 in 20.3 [actually 20.39], so the quarter-milers can't leave me, and if they wait around, I'll run away from them," he said. In Rome, Wiley whipped past 200 in the vicinity of 21 seconds and off the last turn had a five-meter lead on Zuliani and Jamaica's Bert Cameron. He won by four in 44.88. This year Wiley has won the TAC outdoor, U.S.-U.S.S.R. dual meet. World University Games and World Cup 400s. As he gathered his books to hurry back to his second year at Kansas law school, he went as the next great American quarter-miler.
Another future attorney who aspired to the top spot in the world rankings, Henry Marsh of Bountiful, Utah, found his skills as an advocate necessary at the meet. The American record holder in the steeplechase (8:15.68), Marsh felt he had only to beat Italy's Mariano Scartezzini and Poland's Boguslaw Maminski. That he did, spectacularly coming off the last turn in third and wriggling between the two after the final hurdle. But the crucial barrier had been a lap earlier. Approaching the water jump. Marsh held the inside. To his right and a half meter ahead was Ralf P‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√ánitzsch of East Germany. They were fourth and fifth in the still-bunched field. "For some reason he cut in," said Marsh, "which forced me either to push him back away or hop off the track. I didn't want to get into a fight right at the barrier, so I went inside."
Suddenly, to his horror, Marsh found he had run around the water jump, explicit reason for disqualification. "I had a sinking feeling, but what could I do?" He put it out of mind long enough to win the race in 8:19.31. Duly disqualified on Scartezzini's protest, which moved Maminski to first in 8:19.89 and Scartezzini to second in 8:19.93, Marsh filed a counterprotest and was allowed to speak personally to the jury of appeals, a rare event. He said, "Essentially, I told them yes, I missed the barrier, but I had no control because I was the victim of a foul." He cited corroborating testimony from Canada's Greg Duhaime, who'd been just behind. As he emerged from the hearing, Marsh, who graduated from the University of Oregon law school in June, said, "Well, I've just won or lost my first case." But the jury had to review the videotapes and adjourned until the next morning. When they finally denied his appeal, Marsh was already on a plane home.
With favorites Marsh and the injured Lewis scoring 0 and 1 (in the 100) on the scale that awarded 9 points for first, 8 for second and so on, the U.S. men's team was in deep trouble. Then discus co-favorite John Powell, who was in Norway, didn't show up. A mix-up in plane tickets. U.S. Head Coach Jim Tuppeny of Penn arranged to replace Powell with shotputter Dave Laut. But Laut, who had finished third in the shot the day before, withdrew with a sore knee.
"Who do we get?" asked Tuppeny.
"I think that should have been taken care of weeks ago," said Laut.
"If you can think of anyone...."
"Why don't you throw?" said Laut.
Instead, Tuppeny found Brian Oldfield summering nearby and brought him in. But TAC had neglected to include Old-field on the computerized list of potential U.S. entrants. The result: The discus went on without a U.S. thrower when even a miler could have earned the point for ninth.
On the final of the three days, the U.S. men cast aside such woes and showed the talent that had brought them this far. Mel Lattany of Georgia left Wells struggling for second in the 200 as he drew away cleanly to win in 20.21 to 20.53.
"Things were going against us," said Lattany. "After the 100, the team was on a downer. I wanted to prove to the world that the U.S. sprinters are still the best."
And the hurdlers. Earlier Edwin Moses had won the 400 hurdles in 47.37—the fifth-fastest time ever and his 69th straight finals victory in the event, a streak that had begun four years earlier at World Cup I in Düsseldorf—and now Greg Foster ran a controlled race on a wet track to win the highs in 13.32 from Alejandro Casa‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬±as of Cuba.
In much more of a surprise, Tyke Peacock of the University of Kansas ignored the wet and slippery approach that did in Europe's technically refined jumpers and won the high jump at 7'5¾". The height equaled his personal best. "I only seemed to not mind the rain," Peacock said. "I've never won in it before, not in four tries."
And then in a splendid display, the U.S. quarter-milers combined to win the 4 X 400-meter relay in 2:59.12, the third-fastest time ever. Walter McCoy led off with a crucial 45 flat to get the lead, and then Wiley broke the race open with a 44.5. Willie Smith and Tony Darden ran unpressed the rest of the way in 44.5 and 45 flat, respectively. It was a grand gesture and took most of the sting out of the team standings, won by Europe with 147, over East Germany with 130 and the U.S. with 127.
The U.S. women have never placed higher than fourth in a World Cup, and they finished there again. East Germany won the women's competition with 120.5 points, followed by Europe (110), U.S.S.R. (98) and the U.S. (89)—so Ashford's 100 meters was less in support of a team effort than an end to an individual two-year-long road of injury, boycott, self-doubt and the patient, thoughtful overcoming of all that.
In a way, it was run for a team, but a small one, made up of her husband, Ray Washington, and her coach, Pat Connolly. Both—the calm, good-humored husband and the frenetic, opinionated coach—have been necessary to Ashford, appealing to the disparate elements of her character. As the sprinters stripped off their sweats, Washington watched bleary-eyed, because he had been waking constantly in the Roman nights to watch over his sleeping wife.
Ashford was in Lane 9, almost invisible as she stood behind the blocks, because the others were bouncing and shaking their legs and only she was still. "I didn't feel anything," she said.
Ashford got a good start. To her left, England's Kathy Smallwood started magnificently and, with world record holder (10.88) Marlies G‚Äö√†√∂‚Äö√†√áhr, led for 30 meters. But no one in the world has Ashford's pure speed, and she was almost a meter ahead at the finish in 11.02. The World Cup had its only double victor.
Later Ashford would anchor the U.S. women to second in the 4 X 100 relay—at 42.82, the only American record of the meet—and when that was over, despite all the medals, her reaction seemed a blend of relief and a still-simmering sense of quest. "This year I really wanted to run under the world record," Ashford had begun, when Connolly interrupted, "It's either been too hot, like in Sacramento, or there's no competition, or it rains, like in Berlin...."
"Or there's wind, or a bad start," continued Ashford. "I haven't had the perfect race yet. I'll keep running until I find it." Her tone made it sound less like a pledge than an acknowledgment of her own unquenched needs. And seemed to guarantee that two years from now, when there are real track and field world championships in Helsinki, Finland, we again will be lifted by this shy woman's speed and remote grace.