Barcelona's Olympic Stadium got its baptism last Friday night, but it wasn't the one the organizers of World Cup V had in mind. For two hours, rain came splashing down, driving many of the 46,000 spectators under the concrete upper deck and forcing the postponement of the women's high jump until the next night. As 400-meter hurdler Sandra Farmer-Patrick of the U.S. set her blocks on the puddled track for her race, she recalled the words of the American team's psychologist, Rick McGuire: "Expect the unexpected."
It was good advice in this unpredictable city, which will host the Summer Games in 1992. After the regimentation of Seoul, Barcelona's insouciance seemed refreshing, but also a bit alarming. Though plans for the renovation of the 60-year-old Olympic Stadium began in 1981, it was barely ready for the World Cup meet. The stadium reopened almost on time Friday evening. The great moment was delayed half an hour by the late arrival of King Juan Carlos.
In the first race of the night, the men's 400 hurdles, Farmer-Patrick's husband, David Patrick, 29, had won in 48.74. Now the pressure was on his wife. "I thought, David will kill me if I don't win," she said later. She had drawn Lane 2 with its tight turns, and the rain was now pelting down. In Lane 5 for the staggered start was Tatyana Ledovskaya of the Soviet Union, the Olympic silver medalist.
Ledovskaya went out hard, touching down off the third hurdle a full two strides ahead of Farmer-Patrick, who later said, "It looked like she was in Lane 8. That's how far ahead she was."
September 17, 1989
By the fifth hurdle, the 27-year-old Farmer-Patrick was making up ground. She flew around the final turn and caught Ledovskaya at the eighth hurdle. Over the last two barriers she opened up an amazing seven meters, and crossed the line in 53.84, a meet record by .60.
Because both of them had failed to qualify for last year's Olympics, the Patricks took an extra measure of satisfaction in becoming the first married couple to win golds in the same event at an international championship.
They were not the only athletes exorcising their frustration at having missed the Seoul Olympics. Ana Quirot had stayed home when her country, Cuba, boycotted those Games. Quirot, 26, has inherited the ambitiousness of her countryman Alberto Juantorena, who in 1976 became the only person to win an Olympic gold in both the 400 and 800 meters. Now president of the Cuban Athletics Federation, Juantorena urged Quirot, who was undefeated at 800 meters this year, to try the rarely attempted 400-800 double in Barcelona.
In the 800 on Saturday night, Sigrun Wodars, the Olympic champion from East Germany, strode to the front and sped through the first 400 in 55.07. Still, she could not shake Quirot. At the top of the final turn, Quirot moved to the tiring Wodars's shoulder.
She flew past Wodars into the straight and, in a display of magnificent unfaltering power, gained seven meters in the final 100 and crossed the line in 1:54.44, the third-fastest time ever run. Wodars was second, in 1:55.70.
Quirot got another, less satisfying win in Sunday's 400. Though she entered the homestretch with a one-meter lead, she was run down 50 meters from the finish by the lanky strides of the relatively unknown Marie-Jose Perec of France. For more than an hour the result stood: Perec first, in 50.30; Quirot second, in 50.60. But Perec was disqualified for running inside Quirot's lane on the final turn, and Quirot had her second title.
In the men's 1,500 on Saturday, nine runners went to the starting line, but it was a duel between Great Britain's Sebastian Coe, the Olympic champion in both 1980 and '84, and Somalia's Abdi Bile, the 1987 world champion. Like the Patricks and Quirot, neither Coe nor Bile had run in Seoul.
Bile had won a 1,500 in Rieti, Italy, six nights earlier in 3:30.55, the fastest clocking in the world this year. The 32-year-old Coe, on the other hand, was a mystery. He has all but announced his intention to retire after this year and has raced sparingly over the summer. His hopes of beating Bile would have seemed unrealistic had he not run an 800 in 1:43.38 in Bern, Switzerland, on Aug. 29.
For the first 2½ laps Coe stayed safely in third or fourth place while Bile moved steadily through the pack to reach Coe's shoulder. With 300 meters to go Coe took the lead and drove for home.
Bile followed and swung wide off the final turn and attacked. His chest was clearly in front of Coe's when, with 100 meters to go, he seemed to drift into Coe's path. Coe grabbed Bile's left shoulder, to preserve both his position and his balance. "No doubt I lost speed temporarily," said Coe after the race. "At that pace it was enough to be a problem."
But Bile had been turned sideways, also losing precious momentum, and the race was still not over. Coe ran those final, straining meters on the outside of Lane 1; Bile, ahead of Coe, ran on the inside of Lane 2. Coe was giving his all, the muscles and veins in his neck popping with the effort. Ahead of him, Bile gained by tortured inches. He hit the line in 3:35.56, four feet in front of Coe, who finished in 3:35.79.
The British team filed a protest, claiming that Bile had cut too closely in front of Coe. Coe seemed reluctant to press the issue. In the stadium tunnel, he told his coach and father, Peter, "It didn't make any difference."
"Pushing around just happens," Bile said. "I don't think I've done anything destructive." Neither did the six-member Jury of Appeal, which decided to uphold the referee's decision that Coe had not been impeded.
The rain blew in again on Sunday, and for a time there was serious talk of canceling the night's events. The skies finally cleared, leaving the world's two best 110-meter hurdlers, Roger Kingdom of the U.S. and Colin Jackson of Great Britain, to face fresh, swirling winds. Kingdom got out with the gun but soon had to readjust. "The wind was pushing me up into the hurdles, and I crashed quite a few," he said. "I had to concentrate on stepping down fast."
Kingdom hit the second, fifth and 10th hurdles and didn't shake the pesky Jackson until the run-in. He crossed the line with desperate, lunging strides, two feet ahead of Jackson, and then stared up at the improbable time frozen on the stadium clock—12.88.
That was .04 below the world record he had set in Zurich four weeks earlier. "The wind had been in our face before the gun," said Kingdom. "I thought, No, no, no, not twice in one season."
He needn't have worried. The wind gauge showed a tailwind of 2.51 meters per second, over the limit of 2.0 for record acceptance. The official time was 12.87, but Kingdom had to settle for the fastest time under any conditions, while Jackson's 12.95 made him the first man to break 13 seconds and lose.
Theirs has been the most bracing rivalry of the track season. "I like races that are close," said Kingdom. "They're hard on your heart, but they show who the true athletes are."