Burrell hoping to run his way out of shadows

June 13, 1991|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondent

NEW YORK -- The world's fastest human holds no world records and never has appeared in the Olympic Games. He is overshadowed by his teammate and idol, Carl Lewis, and perplexed by the attention lavished on Ben Johnson.

But Leroy Burrell is not complaining -- he is dreaming. He is at the USA/Mobil Championships trying to establish himself securely as the leading U.S. sprinter at 100 and 200 meters. He is laying the groundwork for a gold-medal push at this summer's World Championships in Tokyo and the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.

"I want to be in a hall of fame," he said. "Olympic gold. World records. Ihave a lot of talent."

Unfortunately for Burrell, 24, he has displayed his talent in the two years following the last Olympic Games, the accustomed down time in the world of track and field.

He can only wait patiently for his chance to move into the spotlight.

Lewis still holds the world record of 9.92 seconds in the 100-meter --, but since the 1988 Olympics, no one has run faster than Burrell has. He has run the 100 in under 10 seconds five times -- his time of 9.94 is third best all-time in the United States -- and he beat Lewis in their duel at the 1990 Goodwill Games in Seattle. The pursuer is now the pursued.

"I have faced the fact that I will be under pressure and my life will change," Burrell said. "There will be lofty expectations. I want to be a world-class athlete. I can not do well and choke, or I can take the last step. I plan on taking the last step."

Burrell is 5 feet 11, 180 pounds, a fierce sprinting machine whose features soften when he is dressed in street clothes. Reared in Lansdowne, Pa., a working-class suburb of Philadelphia, Burrell lives in Houston, where he trains with Lewis and the Santa Monica Track Club.

He considers himself a competitor, a man who hates to finish second in anything. He says there are some days when he feels unbeatable.

"It's like, I come to the track and it's over," he said. "I look at the competitors and say, 'Why are you warming up?' The most important thing a sprinter needs is the ability to concentrate on himself and not worry about anyone else."

At this week's national championships, Burrell faces two major opponents, Lewis in the 100 and Michael Johnson in the 200. One man he calls a friend, the other, a rival.

"With Carl, we're teammates, we're training partners, we're friends," he said. "I believe either Carl or I will win the 100. Whoever loses the race will have made a mistake, that's it."

Mention the name Michael Johnson, and Burrell tenses. Clearly, Burrell-Michael Johnson is the rivalry of the 1990s, a matchup of two talented men in the prime of their careers. They split their two meetings last season.

"I was the only person to challenge Michael Johnson last year, let alone compete with him," Burrell said. "He should be concerned competing against me. I ran faster than him over 100 meters. I have more raw speed."

But raw speed alone won't propel Burrell past Lewis and Michael Johnson. This is a man with a plan. He is not content to become the sprinter of the year. His sights are higher. He wants to be the sprinter of the 1990s.

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