What generous souls, these two Santa Monica Track Club teammates! They trade the world record in the most riveting of all track and field events as casually as if it were a new CD or a choice recipe. Between them, Carl Lewis and Leroy Burrell have broken the record for the 100 meters four times in six years.
The most recent handoff came July 6 at the Athletissima '94 meet in Lausanne, Switzerland, where Burrell ran 9.85 to snip .01 off Lewis's three-year-old mark. Lewis, alas, was not in the race, nor was Olympic and world champion Linford Christie of England. Both, it seems, asked more appearance money—a reported $100,000 in Lewis's case—than meet director Jacky Delapierre was willing to pay. Even without them, though, the field in Lausanne was loaded, including, as it did, three men besides Burrell who had run 9.94 or faster.
The night was unseasonably warm, but it was perfect for sprinting. As Burrell settled into his blocks in lane 4, he had, in the two lanes to his right, Davidson Ezinwa of Nigeria, whose 9.94 in Linz, Austria, on July 4 was the fastest time in the world this year, and Dennis Mitchell, who ran 9.91 at the 1991 world championships, in Tokyo. Over in lane 2 was Andre Cason, who ran 9.92 at last year's world championships, in Stuttgart.
Burrell is 27 now and a different sprinter than he was when he ran a record 9.90 in New York three summers ago. He not only has trimmed down from 188 to 180 pounds, but he's also distributing his effort more evenly over the 100 meters. In the record race of '91 he blew out of the blocks so violently that he was almost staggering at the finish. "When I look back, I see I ran very fast, but everyone was coming back on me at the tape," he says. "I was a disaster waiting to happen."
In the days before Lausanne, Burrell and his coach, Tom Tellez, worked on getting Burrell to start smoother. It worked. In Lausanne he reacted well to the gun. While Mitchell and Cason were ahead of him, Burrell says he knew at 20 meters that he had the race won. "Even though they were accelerating fast, they weren't leaving me," Burrell says. "And I've been finishing strong."
Burrell powered past Cason and Mitchell at the midpoint of the race. He broke into a broad grin at 80 meters and reached the tape four feet ahead of the field. Pin-wheeling his arms like the multilimbed god Siva gone crazy, Burrell widened his eyes when he saw the time on the stadium scoreboard. Ezinwa finished second, in 9.99, with Mitchell third in the same time.
Back at the hotel Burrell celebrated: He ate a few extra Fig Newtons. "Some records get broken, and people say they'll last forever," Burrell says. "Everyone thinks this one will be broken a few more times this year. I feel like I've been handed a hot piece of gold."
It has been awhile since Burrell has held gold of any temperature. Long hailed as the heir to Lewis's crown as the world's best sprinter, Burrell has been disappointing in big races. At the Barcelona Olympics he ran the fastest time in the semis of the 100 but started poorly in the final and placed fifth. He didn't even make it to last summer's world championships, coming in fifth at the U.S. nationals.
"I didn't run well in 1992 because I had trouble putting the 1991 world championships behind me," Burrell says. It was at that meet that Burrell ran 9.88 only to finish second to Lewis, who ran his 9.86. "I didn't admit that to myself until last year," Burrell says. "I went into that meet undefeated for the year, thinking it had to happen for me. To run that time and lose was inconceivable to me.
"I'd have dealt with it better, maybe, if Carl and I didn't have the same coach. Andre and Dennis can go home to their coaches, who will cheerlead for them. Tom [Tellez] can't do that. You have to be strong to compete for Santa Monica. No one's going to cheerlead for you."
Burrell did have at least one cheerleader back home, Anthony Barefield, who was 13 when the pair met in 1989. A Friend in common brought the boy to the University of Houston track, where Burrell was training. "He had a great personality, and we all befriended him," says Burrell.
Anthony needed a friend. He had kidney disease severe enough to require dialysis. For a time he even moved in with Burrell. Some of the people closest to Burrell believe that caring for an ailing teenager was a distraction that affected him on the track. He disagrees. "How long does it take me to work out? Two hours?" he says. "Besides, it was fun. I instantly had a family. I got him up every morning, made sure he went to school, made sure he did his homework. He hadn't been doing well in school, but he started doing better. That was neat."
Burrell left for Barcelona on July 6, five days after Anthony had a kidney transplant. Burrell was in Copenhagen, after the Olympics, when he received word that Anthony had gotten sicker. He died the morning after Burrell returned home.
Far from hindering his running, the responsibilities of his relationship with Anthony helped Burrell mature. He now sees his career as a long run instead of as a sprint. After running 10.12 to win the 100 in Lille, France, last Friday, he went home to Houston to regroup and train for bigger meets—the Goodwill Games later this month and the Weltklasse meet next month in Zurich, where the circuit's gaudiest budget and a speedy new track will lure all the world's top sprinters, including Lewis and Christie.
And neither of those is even the most important date for Burrell this year. He and Michelle Finn, the 1990 U.S. 100-meter champion, are expecting a child in September. "We're planning to get married next October," Burrell says with a chuckle. "But we kinda jumped the gun."
Lewis is working hard to persuade his friend and teammate to move the wedding date up. "Yeah," says Burrell, "Carl's been harping on that. But I don't think I'll let him take charge."
On or off the track.