All afternoon, world-record holder Ulf Timmermann of East Germany had mauled the Olympic shot put record, and on his fifth throw he punched it up again, from 70'½" to 73'1¾".
And all afternoon. Randy Barnes of the U.S. had been, as he would put it, "sleepwalking. I was in awe of the whole situation. I was hesitant, afraid of fouling. That meant that I couldn't get into position to snap the shot off my fingers. I was palming it like a knuckleball."
Before the last of his six attempts, Barnes had thrown but 69'11" and stood in fourth place. He seemed destined to relive two decades of frustrating U.S. experience in Olympic shot-putting. Time and again, since America's Randy Matson won this event in 1968, such strong U.S. entries as George Woods, Al Feuerbach and Michael Carter have been numbed enough by the ultimate arena to achieve, at best, second. Barnes knew what he had to do to turn things around. Everybody always does. But the knowing is the easy part. "It took some reckless abandon," he said. Barnes stepped into the ring, whirled, released the shot from the tips of his fingers and put it an Olympic-record 73'5½". It was arguably the greatest come-through throw in U.S. Olympic shot-putting history.
"I felt such relief," Barnes said later. "I didn't think I'd get a throw like that." Nor did he think anyone else would.
October 2, 1988
The shocked Timmermann, unexpectedly shoved into second, stepped into the ring for his final throw and placed the shot under his chalked jaw. There it gave the impression of being electrified, because his face slowly twisted into a rictus of concentration. Then he produced the finest come-through throw in East German Olympic shot-putting history: 73'8¾". He had won.
Barnes was now a doubly dazed silver medalist. "I'm impressed," he said. "I thought I had it. It was a tremendous effort on his part. He earned it."
Never has there been an Olympic shot put competition to equal it, and the battle of Barnes and Timmermann, which couldn't have happened in the divided Games of 1980 and '84, served as a powerful reminder that this was an Olympics that spread its wings over nearly the whole world.
In the men's 800 on Monday, 1984 Olympic champion Joaquim Cruz of Brazil and the wildly ambitious Said Aouita of Morocco, who had said he was going for the virtually impossible 800-1,500-5,000-meter triple, were outrun in the stretch by the expressionless Paul Ereng of Kenya and the University of Virginia. Ereng completed his dazzling first season of running this distance—he's also the NCAA 800 champion—by winning going away in 1:43.45 to Cruz's 1:43.90 and Aouita's 1:44.06. Then a Kenyan flag was flung from the stands, and Ereng took it on a victory lap wondrous for its solemn dignity.
Later that same day, Aouita's thunder was stolen again, this time by Moroccan teammate Brahim Boutayeb, whose Olympic-record 27:21.46 win in the 10,000 inspired such a surge of brotherhood that he stopped at the finish line to embrace the guys behind him, Salvatore Antibo of Italy and Kipkemboi Kimeli of Kenya.
As expected, East Germany's practically indistinguishable Sigrun Wodars and Christine Wachtel finished one-two in the women's 800, in 1:56.10 and 1:56.64, respectively, but Kim Gallagher of the U.S. slipped neatly out of a box on the final turn and strode in a strong third, narrowly missing Mary Slaney's U.S. mark of 1:56.90 with a 1:56.91.
Oh, yes, Slaney. When she set off at a world-record pace in the 3,000-meter final, it looked as if the whole world, led by Romania's Paula Ivan with the U.S.S.R.'s Tatyana Samolenko close behind, stuck right with her. "The idea was to run a faster race than anyone else was capable of," said Slaney. Indeed, her personal best of 8:25.83 had not been approached by Ivan or Samolenko. But the field was more capable than Slaney had suspected. "And," said Slaney, "I played right into their hands."
She did so by ripping her first nervous lap in 63 seconds, which would be fast even for a 1,500-meter race. By the midpoint of the 3,000, oxygen debt was working its leaden changes in her. When Slaney slowed, teammate Vicki Huber took over the pace, but there was no escaping Ivan and Samolenko, who ran away on the last turn and staged a magnificent homestretch duel, won by Samolenko, 8:26.53 to 8:27.15. Huber, in sixth, chopped more than nine seconds from her best with an 8:37.25.
Slaney, who was almost tripped when the pack swarmed past her, was 10th. While not as devastating as her fall in Los Angeles in 1984, this obviously was not the Olympic moment for which she has labored 19 years. "Well, here we go," said her husband, Richard. "Another four years."
Two legendary men were going for their third golds in a single event. Neither 400-meter hurdler Edwin Moses (see preceding story) nor Soviet hammer thrower Yuri Sedykh quite made it. Sedykh's 274'10" wasn't good enough to beat teammate Sergei Litvinov's 278'2", and Sedykh stoically accepted silver. Yuri Tamm completed a Soviet sweep, with 266'3".
There was another athlete who did succeed in an event where longevity is rare. Before Monday, only one man had won two high hurdles golds: Lee Calhoun of the U.S., in 1956 and '60. Now there is another. At Los Angeles, Roger Kingdom had dived past his teammate Greg Foster to win by .03, and with Foster out with a broken arm. Kingdom was heavily favored in Seoul. Then, at 6:00 a.m. on the day of the final, he awoke in the dark, terrified.
"I sensed something great or something terrible would happen today," he said. "No in-between. I'd strained my leg in the prelims. There are always accidents in the hurdles. I felt the pressure of a possible disaster. I called my mom. She settled me down."
At the gun, Kingdom sensed teammate Arthur Blake, in the lane next to him, leave the line early. Yet there was no recall. The race was on. Blake would go on to hit the sixth hurdle so hard that he finished last.
Kingdom clobbered the sixth barrier too, but it had the opposite effect on him. "It seemed to tip me forward," he said later. "I gained momentum. I ran the fastest last four hurdles of my life and dug like mad for the finish."
He reached it in 12.98, an Olympic record, and won by an amazing three meters over Colin Jackson of Great Britain and Tonie Campbell of the U.S.
Winning transformed all the fear into ecstasy. Kingdom's high-kicking reaction was the most uninhibited display of an emotional week. Later, walking out of the stadium with Joy Shepard, who is his girlfriend and coach, his mom, Christine, and his agent, John Nubani, he was still pumped. "Yeah, this is done," he yelled. "I dealt with the pressure of doubt. I went through it light and laughing. And I ran the best I have all year."
Now there is a formula for a happy Kingdom.