Thunder cracked and rolled as Larry Myricks stood on the runway, his mind racing. This would be his second long jump attempt in these U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials, a meet that became an nine-day outpouring of the great American talents for sprinting, hurdling and jumping—and left a few of the best behind.
Florence Griffith Joyner would break the U.S. women's 200-meter record in high style, and her sister-in-law, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, would win the women's long jump. Mary Slaney, already the 3,000-meter winner, would command the 1,500 with such ease that she may win both distances in Seoul. Butch Reynolds would near a noble standard in the 400.
But no event had a more compelling context than Myricks long jumping against Carl Lewis.
Below masses of violent black cloud, a curtain of drought-ending rain was sweeping toward the Indiana University Track and Field Stadium in Indianapolis. Myricks watched it.
July 31, 1988
These had been the conditions in Mexico City on Oct. 18, 1968, at the moment of Bob Beamon's godlike world record of 29'2½". After Beamon's jolt, the skies had opened. The other competitors at those Olympics were left stunned and sopping.
Now Myricks could take the last dry jump. Finally, after losing to Lewis 33 times since 1981, he could seize his moment. He could plunge Lewis into the storm. "I knew full well he jumps better when it's warm," Myricks would say.
Lewis, too, eyed the heavens. His first attempt had been a tentative 27'4½". He sensed that the four swift runs it had taken to win the 100 meters and the two rounds of the 200 he had run that day had taken something from his jumping.
Myricks waited until the first huge drops were splattering on the track. He sprinted powerfully, hit the board with a boom and jumped 28'3/4", exploding from the sand with his fist up as the rain became a deluge. It seemed the officials might have to interrupt the competition.
But no, there was Lewis, standing stock-still on the approach, rain bouncing in an aura of backlit spray from his shoulders. Now he waited, ignoring all but the act before him, as the stands, which had trembled with people running for cover, fell silent.
"He froze that crowd," said UCLA sprint coach John Smith. "He waited until the rain was at its hardest."
"My first thought when it came was don't jump," Lewis said. "Keep safe for the 200. But the competitive spirit overruled me."
There was some cunning at work, too. A 3.2 meters-per-second tail wind had blown in with the rain.
He ran with gathering speed, jumped and landed at 28'2¼". An inch and a half farther than Myricks. Rising, Lewis faced the crowd and extended his arms, palms up, in a gesture that embraced the stands, the city, the invisible stars. He had snatched back the moment.
"He was saying," said Smith, " 'I know what you tried, Larry, and for all of you up there who think I'm a spoiled brat who has things too easy, this is my answer.' "
Then the officials did call a temporary halt, a pause to marvel again at how Lewis finds, come what may, such chances for theater. You would have sworn he had called down the rain in order to ascend through it.
The storm passed in 15 minutes. Then the jumping resumed and Myricks coolly topped him.
Bulling through the mist, Myricks adjusted his steps slightly two strides out from the board, hit it and cut into the wet sand at 28'8¼", his lifetime best and just two inches behind Lewis's best of 28'10¼", set here in 1983.
"I felt like a boxer in a slugging match," said Lewis.
"I came in with my mind set for whatever happened," Myricks said. "I'm talking the weather, the runway, the crowd or the man. That gesture was just pure Carl."
Lewis took his mark and put his hands on his knees, letting his body absorb this blow, letting the feeling come.
Then he ran, leaped and landed dangerously near the right edge of the pit. This time he rose without emotion, for it was a lengthy jump, but not an obvious knockout.
Lightning split the night as the numbers came up: 8.76 meters; 28'9". Lewis had edged ahead again by three quarters of an inch. No matter what happened now, this was the greatest long jump duel in history.
"Did you see The Natural!" said Lewis's sister, Carol, shivering. "This is like that."
Then another 20-year echo sounded. A few minutes after Beamon's jump in Mexico City, Lee Evans had set the still-standing 400-meter record of 43.86. Now UCLA sophomore Steve Lewis won his 400 semifinal in 44.11, a world junior (under 20 years old throughout the calendar year) record and the second-fastest ever at low altitude, behind only the 44.10 Reynolds ran last year. Reynolds won the other semi in 44.65, setting up a grand final.
Eerily, both Carl Lewis's 28'9" and Steve Lewis's 44.11, when adjusted for altitude, would be virtually identical to the performances of Beamon and Evans.
Now Myricks was down to his last chance. He responded with a soaring leap that clearly re-re-passed Lewis and entered Beamon country. But he fouled by six inches, ending this round of a struggle that will continue in South Korea in September.
Lewis went to Myricks and they executed a mutually respectful high five. "This long jump was the most satisfying of my career," said Lewis later.
"Best we've ever had." said Myricks, who is not close to Lewis. "Carl was nicer to me this time than he has ever been. I think Ben Johnson [who defeated Lewis with a world record 9.83 100 meters in 1987] brought him down to earth some. Maybe I can do it a little more in Seoul."
Didn't take that long. Lewis's Santa Monica Track Club teammate, University of Houston senior Joe DeLoach, put him in second in the 200 final with a 19.96 to Lewis's 20.01.
Even better times had been expected, but the rains brought the early week's 100° temperatures—which had cooked the viscosity out of the sprinters' muscles—down to a coagulating 66° by race time Wednesday night.
And Lewis got greedy. "I did." he said. "I went out too hard. When I came out of the turn, I knew either I was going to run 19.6 or die."
He expired in the stretch, barely holding his place on the team against the charges of Roy Martin and Albert Robinson. Both ran 20.05, but Martin leaned his way to the precious third.
The 400 final was the most anticipated of the meet because Evans's record has never been threatened; because the 19-year-old Steve Lewis is a picture of impatient, howling speed; because Reynolds—last year's sensation—was back from injury; and because Lewis's UCLA teammate, NCAA champion Danny Everett, had been running under wraps.
Everett, 21, accepted a half scholarship from UCLA in order to be coached by Smith, who in 1971 set the 440-yard world record of 44.5. "Danny is different," Smith says. "As he trains for cardiovascular stamina, doing 1,000-meter intervals and seven-mile runs, he gets faster. He is a man who can think of ultimate goals like 1:41 in the 800 [Sebastian Coe's world record is 1:41.73] and 43 in the 400."
He could also walk calmly away from a 44.32 semi and be conversational after six deep breaths, while his competitors crouched, nauseated, on the track.
Lewis, who ran in the other semi, is also remarkable. In high school Lewis produced "a natural, straight-from-the-womb 45.76," as Smith puts it. This year he raced sparingly because of soreness in his still-growing shins, but Lewis's innate power saw him to second behind Everett in the NCAAs.
"They've had a Cinderella season," said Smith, "not like what Butch has been through."
Amen. In May, Reynolds was running 200s in a workout. "Coach [Frank Zubovich of Ohio State] said 21.4s," Reynolds admitted guiltily. "I tried for 20.8s."
Zing went the strings of his ham. "It really messed me up deep in my right hamstring," said Reynolds. "The dream had been so close. I thought it was gone."
He threw himself into therapy, and Zubovich reminded him constantly that he had built a solid endurance base. "Still, I came here wondering," said Reynolds.
A first-round 45.78 had him on his knees. "But the leg held up," he said. "Confidence made 44.54 in the quarterfinals more comfortable. I knew then it was mine."
Three men knew it was theirs, even though two had to be wrong. Lewis came off the track after his blazing 44.11 semi, and said to Smith, "That was easy."
"Yeah," said Smith. "That's the lesson. When you're relaxed, you're in control. Control isn't force. It's the ability to use the force."
A wet wind seemed to rule out fast times in the final. But 1984 Olympic bronze medalist Antonio McKay set out to steal the race, tearing down the back-stretch. Lewis eagerly caught him before the 200. Then Reynolds, his arms hooking powerfully, burned the curve and led into the stretch.
Everett, light-footed-and balanced, was in perfect position, two feet back with 90 long brick-red meters to go.
Smith, who often works in films—you can see him briefly in Dragnet—had taught Everett an actor's secret, saying, "Your greatest freedom is your smallest focus." In this case that meant his own knees, his own lane, his own unstrained effort.
Reynolds had used everything he had. "I won't lie," he said. "I was just holding on."
Everett gained. And saw himself gaining. And expanded his focus. And pressed too hard. And lost his footrace. Reynolds reached the line with a foot and a half on him.
Their times were 43.93 and 43.98. The 44-second barrier had been breached for the first time since Evans and Larry James (43.97) did it in Mexico City. But Reynolds's and Everett's efforts would be worth 43.6's in the thin, still air of that afternoon long ago.
"Doggone it, I had him," said Everett. "I can't believe I reacted like that in the stretch."
"Look where you've come," said Smith. "He had to set the [low-altitude] world record to beat you."
Lewis finished alone in third with 44.37 "With all respect to Lee," said Smith flatly, "these are the three best 400 men ever."
That may have to await confirmation in the Olympic 400, but we know right now that Griffith Joyner has no imaginable peer. She ran and won the three preliminary rounds of the 200 in pink, yellow and black bodysuits, respectively, which didn't make a dent in the 14 racing outfits she had brought to Indy. Her nails carried rhinestones on her right hand and tiny Hawaiian beach scenes complete with palm trees and sea gulls painted on her left. Oh yes, the yellow worked best. Call it international warning buttercup. Sheathed in it she broke Valerie Brisco's U.S. record of 21.81 with 21.77 in the quarterfinals.
Keeping a promise to a friend, she chose a white lace body stocking for the final. "Well, it's a...negligee," she said, her voice appropriately sultry.
A solemn Pam Marshall was determined to let her feet be her flash. She gained late in the stretch, but missed with 21.93. The lingerie adjust ahead of her won in 21.85.
Slaney, too, had competition, but Regina Jacobs's excited run at her in the last lap of the 1,500 simply revealed Slaney's reserves. As Jacobs's footsteps closed in, adrenaline sent out its irresistible call, and Slaney took off. She veered in the stretch to drive her pursuer wide, though there was no need. It was easy to imagine her being unsuccessfully chased by anguished Soviets as she kicked away to win in 3:58.92.
Jacobs ran a splendid 4:00.46 to become the third-fastest American ever, and Kim Gallagher, another great talent restored to health, who had won the 800 earlier, took third in 4:05.41.
Later Slaney was all business. "What were the splits?" she asked. "I can't figure where I fell off American record pace."
Records were luxuries. In most events there were dogfights for every place on the team. And in one there was an attempt so impossible it seemed like something out of Cervantes.
World champion high hurdler Greg Foster fell in a workout on July 4 and shattered his left forearm. Four steel plates and a dozen screws now hold it together. Thus impaired, Foster set out to make the U.S. Olympic team.
Foster unfastened the Velcro straps and took off his plastic cast, his arm tightly wrapped in elastic bandages, and went out for the first round. In the set position, he put as much weight as he could on his good arm. Hurdling very carefully, he won his heat in 13.58. He was third in his quarterfinal in 13.69.
But a hurdler who leads with his left leg uses his left arm forcefully to balance the thrust of his driving lead leg. Foster could do little but hold his arm close to his side. Every barrier threw him off balance. In the semifinal he hit the sixth, barely cleared the seventh and, off balance, pushed over the eighth and stopped.
"That is a vision of the Olympic spirit more lasting than any medal," said Bob Kersee, Foster's coach.
Foster thus heads a list of great names you will not hear in September. Mike Conley, the best combination triple and long jumper in history, did not finish in the top three in either event and thus did not make the team. Four-time Olympian John Powell was fifth in the discus. The best U.S. miler of 1987, Jim Spivey, a victim of a sloppy, slow 1,500, finished fourth. American 400-hurdles record holder Judi Brown King, weakened by a mysterious malady, was fifth.
So as you page back to the agate type of FOR THE RECORD to survey the great team the U.S. will send to Seoul, you should keep in mind that, as ever, a fine one is staying home.
And, if Foster is an example, coming to terms with it well. After staying to watch '84 Olympic champion Roger Kingdom win the hurdles final in a wind-aided 13.21, Foster slipped away. But a friend, carrying a toddler, stopped him to commend his courage. The tiny girl pointed to Foster's cast.
"A boo-boo," Foster gently said to her. "Did a little boo-boo."
"No matter what happened now, this was the greatest long jump duel in history."