Of course they cried out. Transitions are always painful. Birth,
death ... lord, adolescence is a transition, and this was as
anguished, as irrevocable. The eight flailing sprinters in the
men's 100-meter final at the world track and field championships
on Sunday in Goteborg, Sweden, had just passed 70 meters in the
V-shaped formation of a flight of geese. Let's say Canada geese,
for it was Canada's Donovan Bailey at the point of the V and
Canada's Bruny Surin close behind, battling Trinidad's Ato
Boldon for second.
Bailey's head was bobbing, and his stride felt about to go out
of control, but he still saw, far to his left, Britain's Linford
Christie, the '92 Olympic and '93 world champion. Saw that
Christie was fading.
Bailey screamed. At the moment that the transit was made from
one world's fastest human to the next, the new champion roared
"That scream took me totally out of my game," said Boldon, a
senior at UCLA who had won the NCAA 200 meters in June. He
gave Bailey an astounded look. "I was relaxed until then,"
Boldon said. "Blame my youth and inexperience." Boldon didn't
exactly disintegrate. Bailey won in 9.97 seconds, with Surin
close behind at 10.03, but Boldon finished third, also in 10.03.
August 13, 1995
Not that Bailey had screamed as a tactical move. "I was mad," he
said. "I knew I was in front, but I'd run a technically bad
race. I was overstriding." Bailey yelled partly to regain
command. "A few choice words," he said. What were they? Better,
he suggested, to use asterisks and ampersands.
With 10 meters to go, as if the loss of his mantle was
unbearable, Christie, too, screamed. He had been the favorite,
the master of the nerves that make sprinters flinch in defining
races. Christie is 35 and tired, not of sprinting but of the
tabloid turmoil that sprinting success has brought into his
life. He had announced he would skip next summer's Olympics.
This was to be his last great odds-beating triumph.
But in his semifinal 2-1/2 hours earlier, Christie felt a twinge
in his right hamstring. He eased in fourth and limped to
treatment. He considered withdrawing, but he had willed away
tics and twinges before. "As an athlete," he had said,
dismissively, "you're always injured."
Now, in the final's last desperate strides, the twinge returned
as a vicious cramp. The muscle in the back of Christie's thigh
locked his calf against his butt. Of course it couldn't stay
there. In the next instant, the more powerful quadriceps on the
front of Christie's thigh straightened his knee and tore holy
hell out of his cramped ham. Christie's scream contained his
injury, his loss, his rage at the manner of his passing. So loud
were the wails and groans coming from this race that
photographers near the finish felt they faced a cave of winds.
Christie stayed on his feet to finish sixth in 10.12 but went
face-first to the track at once. A stretcher was brought out,
and it was not hard to imagine it a shield.
His conqueror was past him by then, savoring a victory lap. If
ever a man has come to sprinting prominence on his own terms,
it's Bailey. Born in Jamaica 27 years ago, he moved to Canada at
13 and embarked upon a life free of world-class mania. He played
basketball at Sheridan College in Ontario, a six-foot-tall power
forward. "Going nowhere," he puts it. He means in sport, for he
was a fine student.
Bailey studied economics and quickly built a successful career
as an independent market consultant and stockbroker in Toronto.
As a diversion, he entered occasional sprints, but his training
was sporadic, his form ungainly. "Track and field was a hobby to
me," he says.
Yet such was his talent that Bailey soon was scraping onto the
Canadian sprint team, it being then depleted and demoralized by
the Ben Johnson steroid debacle. In 1993, Bailey was an
alternate on Canada's relay team at the world championships in
Stuttgart. There, the sight of him gallumphing through practice
baton passes so offended the biomechanical sensibilities of Dan
Pfaff, an assistant track coach at LSU, that he cried out an
appalling truth: "I've never seen anyone run so fast who looked
"Make me better," said Bailey.
"Come to Baton Rouge," said Pfaff.
In early 1994, Bailey did. He broke 10 seconds for the first
time this spring and set a Canadian record of 9.91 in the
Canadian nationals in July. On paper he was the fastest of the
contenders at the worlds, but in Oslo two weeks before, Christie
beat him easily.
As he approached the big one, Bailey was resistant to all
pressures. Perhaps it was the stability that comes with having a
profession apart from sport, perhaps it was just the blinding
blue Goteborg days, so warm that the huge trout in the city's
canals were gasping for breath, but Bailey was at uncommon ease.
"He just seemed not to realize that he should be a nervous
wreck," said a Canadian team official.
During the walk to the final, the tightness finally came. Bailey
had to concentrate on his breathing. Then an extraordinary thing
happened. Christie, who normally employs a flinty aloofness to
intimidate opponents, hugged Bailey and wished him luck. If the
mantle had to be passed, Christie had made his preference known.
It was all over but the screaming. Out of the blocks, Boldon led
because Bailey and U.S. champion Mike Marsh started terribly.
Marsh never recovered, but Bailey, uncoiling into his cumbersome
low-kneed stride that calls on all the power of his hips and
back, passed the field at 50 meters, making the fastest men
alive look prissy.
As Bailey hit the tape with a great grin, as the other medals
were taken by Caribbean-bred sprinters (Surin was born in
Haiti), and as Marsh finished fifth, making this the first world
or Olympic men's 100 since 1976 to not have a U.S. medalist, the
Goteborg 100 seemed to mark not just the end of a reign but of a
The U.S. plight: World-record holder (9.85) Leroy Burrell is
injured; Carl Lewis did not make the sprint team and, suffering
his own hamstring pull, even had to withdraw from the long jump;
Olympic bronze medalist Dennis Mitchell's quad seized up in a
heat; and 1993 world silver medalist Andre Cason didn't make the
team. The deepest sprint corps in history had suddenly gone from
dynasty to trying to scare up a team for this week's 400-meter
relay. Marsh and relay-team member Jon Drummond were the only
seasoned men left. "After [200-meter runner] Jeff Williams,"
said Marsh, "our next fastest is Gwen Torrence."
On Monday, Torrence swept past the other two premiere performers
in the 100, Jamaica's Merlene Ottey and Russia's Irina
Privalova, in 10.85. Torrence was running in the afterglow of
history, for on his first try in the triple jump, Jonathan
Edwards of Britain broke his own three-week-old world record of
59'0" with an effort of 59'7".
Edwards, 29, pale, slight, Baptist although the son of an
Anglican vicar, is a spiritual descendant of one of the heroes
in Chariots of Fire. Like Eric Liddell, he did not compete on
Sundays, until two years ago when his conscience finally allowed
that jumping was what he was put here on earth to do. On his
second attempt in Goteborg, he flew high and came lightly to
earth 60'1/4" from the board. Two jumps, two world records and
the first 60-foot triple jump.
It was a wonderful week for preachers' kids. Gail Devers, whose
father is a Baptist minister, completed her return to
competition in the 100 hurdles. Devers's 1994 was wiped out by a
tear of her hamstring at the point where it attaches to the hip.
Four times she has torn the muscle there, the last being the
"The orthopedists said there's a nerve at the point of
insertion," said Devers, who has waged a famous battle with
Graves' disease and speaks of her tearing flesh with a
pathologist's relish. "If I pull it again, they might have to
remove the nerve."
In lieu of that, Devers's coach, Bobby Kersee, came up with
drills to strengthen the surrounding tissue. Despite winning the
U.S. nationals in June, she hit Goteborg unsure of her racing
sharpness. Meanwhile, her main rival, Olga Shishigina of
Kazakhstan, had whipped through the season's best time, 12.44,
or .02 better than Devers's American record.
Devers and Shishigina were in adjacent lanes in the final. As
they bent into the blocks, Devers's masses of curls fell over
her head and almost swept the track. You could take her pulse
from their tips' twitching. Shishigina started even with
Devers, and at the first hurdle she became a danger. To balance
her leading left leg over every hurdle, Shishigina brought her
right arm and hand, held like a blade, slashing across her chest
and into Devers's lane.
Devers's answer was to inch inexorably ahead. Her focus was
inward. In 1992 she had reached the 10th hurdle in Barcelona
with a lead like this and had thought the race over and
lengthened her stride. She clobbered the hurdle and finished
fifth. Here, she waited to lengthen stride until she touched
down over the last hurdle with a half-meter lead, gained another
half on the run-in and won in 12.68.
She then took history's longest victory lap. For 45 minutes
Devers walked inside the rail, signing every autograph, giving
coaching tips, arranging family photos with every child who
asked. She was not done until the 100-meter men were in the
blocks. So Devers sat and watched Donovan Bailey.
"Look at that," she said, after he had screamed past. "He found
the way to run that's best for him. I think we're going to be
studying that form for a long time."
Christie's scream contained his injury, his loss, his rage at
the manner of his passing.