The four Canadian sprinters watched from a distance, absorbing
the madness. No sooner had Carl Lewis landed magnificently in
soft sand last Monday night, winning his ninth Olympic gold
medal, than the clamor began to add him to the U.S. 4X100-meter
relay so that he might ceremoniously win a 10th. The issue
defied reason and became one of those raucous debates that
careers outside sense and wisdom. Strident voices spoke, grating
like iron rakes along dry concrete. The spirit of competition
was lost in the clamor.
Lost until last night at Olympic Stadium, that is, when the four
Canadian sprinters delivered a stinging reminder that assumption
is a dangerous implement to wield in support of any cause. Lewis
did not run the relay, but Canada suggested forcefully that it
would not have made a difference if he had. Adding a gold medal
to the world championship they won last year in Goteborg,
Sweden, the Canadians won in 37.69 seconds, the sixth-fastest
time in history. It was the first time in 15 Olympic
competitions that the U.S. has lost an Olympic 4X100 in which it
"We made it clear that it didn't matter who ran against us,"
said Donovan Bailey, the 100-meter gold medalist and
world-record holder, who anchored the Canadian team. "All we
heard all week was that Carl was going to win his 10th gold
medal, and that brought us together even more. There wasn't
another gold medal available to Carl."
The intrigue that had been set in motion by Lewis himself and
sent rolling downhill by all forms of media was resolved at a 4
p.m. meeting yesterday among coaches Erv Hunt and Charlie
Greene, Lewis and the six other eligible relay members. The
meeting became necessary after Leroy Burrell told coaches that
he could not compete because of an Achilles tendon injury. "We
all talked and made a decision," said U.S. anchor and captain
Dennis Mitchell. Tim Harden, the 1995 NCAA 100-meter champion,
who had no international relay experience, was named to replace
Burrell. Harden would run second, after Jon Drummond and ahead
of Mike Marsh and Mitchell.
August 3, 1996
The choice of Harden dispelled several conspiracy theories, most
notably that one of Lewis's Santa Monica Track Club teammates,
either Burrell or Marsh, would accept money from Lewis to step
The start was delayed for several minutes as members of the
Ghana team refused to leave the track after being disqualified
for using an ineligible runner. At the gun, Drummond was briefly
left but got to the first pass .01 of a second ahead of Canada's
Robert Esmie. Drummond, however, made a safe, time-consuming
pass to Harden, while Esmie and Glenroy Gilbert used a slick
exchange to take the lead. Esmie knew. He shot his right fist
into the air after the handoff. Gilbert ripped up the
backstretch, running a 9.02 and torching Harden by .34 as Harden
fiddled with the baton, trying to get his hand to the end to
give Marsh more metal to grab. That adjustment cost precious
fractions. Canada was clearly in front, with Bailey waiting.
"Once I got the baton from Robert and then passed it to Bruny
[Surin], I knew the relay was over," said Gilbert.
Surin, the 100-meter silver medalist at last year's world
championships, extended the lead over Marsh on the turn, and
Bailey ran away from Mitchell, throwing his right arm into the
air 15 meters short of the finish. "I want to apologize to my
teammates for that," Bailey said. "I think we could have had the
world record [37.40]."
Clearly, substituting Lewis for Harden would have helped.
"There's not a relay team in the world that Carl wouldn't help,"
said Lewis's manager, Joe Douglas. But it is a great leap of
faith to suggest that Lewis, who hasn't run a fast 100 since
May, would have reversed last night's result. Bailey jogged
through the finish; there was plenty more in his tank. And the
hottest sprinter in the world was not surprised by Lewis's
absence. "Carl is a better businessman than that," Bailey said.
"It wouldn't be a great investment to get out there and
In the end, it seems folly to have underestimated the Canadians.
"To be perfectly blunt, we got barbecued," said Marsh. Harden's
leg may have been the weakest, but there was still plenty of
blame to pass around: Drummond didn't open enough of a lead on
Esmie, Marsh didn't overtake Surin, Mitchell was left in
Yet blame is the damning solution. The Canadians were brilliant,
making light of the controversy that had left them invisible.
"Anytime there's chaos in a relay camp, those relays are never,
ever, ever successful," said Bailey. The Canadians have been
together more than a year, passing, building, growing. And
sometimes a win is just a win.
It was for Algeria's Noureddine Morceli, who has been the best
middle-distance runner in the world dating back to 1990 but was
sabotaged by a Kenyan trap at the 1992 Barcelona Games. He at
last won his gold in the 1,500. Burundi's Venuste Niyongabo, who
moved up from the 1,500 to escape Morceli, took the 5,000. And
the other three U.S. relays won gold medals without controversy.
Gwen Torrence, whose stride has been affected for six weeks by a
painful thigh injury, anchored the U.S. women's 4X100 to a gold
medal. In May she seemed likely to win three gold medals, yet
this was her first, and she exuded immeasurable joy as she
pointed an index finger at the clouds and stuck her tongue out
in glee. And Derek Mills shot the U.S. into a commanding lead in
the men's 4X400 before Anthuan Maybank held off Great Britain's
Roger Black for the gold.
But best of all was Jearl Miles, anchoring the U.S. women's
4X400 relay. Given a small lead by Kim Graham, she tore down the
backstretch. As Miles turned for home, however, Nigeria's
Falilat Ogunkoya began to close. Miles veered toward the
outside, and Ogunkoya slipped to the rail. In the final meters,
both runners stiffened with pain, barely able to drive toward
Before the race, as Miles was warming up at a track three blocks
from the stadium, other athletes cheered Canada's defeat of the
U.S. in the men's 4X100 relay. "I said, O.K., you don't have to
cheer," said Miles. As she approached the finish line, however,
she was enveloped by a crushing roar from every corner of the
stadium. She threw her torso across the line, preserving gold.
"If I had been anywhere else in the world, I think I might have
gotten caught," Miles said. "I didn't want to let them down."
And here we returned to the spirit of competition, so absent in
a week of clamor.