Fool's gold was ladled generously about Olympic Stadium last
night, setting emotional fires but counting for nothing. Male
sprinters torched 100-meter heats, making the world record
appear vulnerable. A cast of women prepared to reprise 100-meter
roles played at the 1992 Barcelona Games. A winsome, starstruck
quarter-miler from Sri Lanka was given the rare privilege of
beating Michael Johnson. All of it was valueless in the shadow
of what is yet to come.
This is an article from the July 27, 1996 issue
There were just two gold medals awarded in two sessions on the
first day of Olympic track and field, when a total of more than
160,000 spectators viewed a sport that is often ignored in the
U.S. One gold was won in the early morning by Jefferson Perez of
Ecuador, whose victory in the 20-kilometer walk meant his
country's first Olympic medal. And another was taken in the
dying hours of the evening, when U.S. shot-putter Randy Barnes,
sitting in sixth place after a desultory night, overhauled
leader and teammate John Godina on his final throw, a toss of
It was eight years ago at the Seoul Games that East Germany's
Ulf Timmermann took the gold medal from Barnes on the last
throw. On this night world champion Godina, 24, was left
crestfallen. "I knew he was going to do what he did," said
Godina, who won the silver with a throw of 68'2". Barnes, 30,
who endured a drug suspension from 1990 to '92, said, "I know
what John is going through, exactly. It's been a long road back
for me. John's got time on his side."
In between the victories by Barnes and Perez, sprinters painted
the swift stadium track with possibilities. Last night in the
quarterfinals of the men's 100, 22-year-old Ato Boldon of
Trinidad and Tobago ripped a 9.95 in winning his heat and came
bounding off the track to guarantee a world record in tonight's
final. "One-hundred percent, guaranteed, for whoever wins," said
Boldon. Minutes later, prerace favorite Frankie Fredericks ran a
comically easy 9.93, shutting down at least 15 meters from the
finish and floating across the line.
The women's 100 could be a replay of the wild finish in '92.
Defending gold medalist Gail Devers of the U.S. ran 10.92 in the
morning and 10.94 at night in the quarters. Jamaica's Merlene
Ottey, 36, and Juliet Cuthbert advanced to the semifinals, as
did U.S. trials champ Gwen Torrence, who is fighting a lingering
For one brief moment, 22-year-old Sugath Thilakaratne, the South
Asian champion from the Sri Lankan village of Nortonbridge, was
close to the incomparable Johnson. In the opening round of the
400 meters, Johnson throttled back to a near walk in the final
20 meters, and Thilakaratne dipped Johnson at the line in a
national record and personal best of 45.79, which Johnson could
run in a blizzard.
No matter. "I can't believe I beat Michael Johnson," said
Thilakaratne. "When he slowed down, it gave me strength."
Today he starts clean. No medals for fleeting promise.