NEW YORK -- They were at 80 meters now, and these men named Leroy Burrell and Carl Lewis were nothing more than two flashes of blue and gold dancing lightly on a track and racing into history.
Burrell was ahead, but he could feel the presence of his friend, hear the voice of the legend. Later, he would say, "It was almost like someone had hit fast forward." But when the tape had run out, and the mind had cleared, the legend was still lurking on the left, still surging for the triumph.
Twenty meters to go. Ten meters to go. Burrell tiring in lane four. Lewis flying in lane three. Names, then flashes heading to a finish.
"Carl hit the tape before I did," Burrell said. "I said, 'Oh my gosh, he won.' I looked at the clock. I thought, 'Gosh, that's fast.' I hope I won. I hope I'm the world record holder."
Hope became reality yesterday at the USA/Mobil Championships. The clock read 9.90 seconds. The winner was Burrell.
L Track and field was crowning a new king of the 100-meter --.
Lewis, who held the former record of 9.92 seconds, escorted the new record holder to the microphone. Suddenly, there was beauty in a shabby, horseshoe-shaped place called Downing Stadium. The 7,523 fans stood on the concrete steps and cheered as Burrell said, "I'm just overwhelmed."
He was 24 and breathless, the phenom who was raised in Lansdowne, Pa., a working-class suburb of Philadelphia. For three years he had thought of this record, training side by side with Lewis in Houston. He beat Lewis at the 1990 Goodwill Games. He became the indoor world record holder at 60 meters in February in Madrid. Still, he needed a platform to break into the big money and the big time.
Others inside the sport were pointing all that time toward a final showdown between Lewis and Ben Johnson. That was the race made in match heaven the moment Ben Johnson was bounced for steroids from the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.
Johnson's time of 9.79 seconds, recorded the day he beat Lewis in Seoul, was never placed in the record books. Also erased was Johnson's 9.83, clocked at the 1987 World Championships in Rome. Therecord, for what it was worth, belonged to Lewis, the Seoul runner-up who became champion at 9.92 seconds.
"A lot of damage was done to track because of drugs," Burrell said. "I hope we can repair the damage. Track is a sport that can be run successfully without drugs. World records can be broken by clean athletes."
When Lewis and Burrell walked out on the track, they were dressed in matching formal warm-ups -- black-double breasted tuxedos with waist-length jackets and black striped pants.
"To come out in a tuxedo bucks tradition, but what is more traditional than a tuxedo," Lewis said.
The race was won and lost in the starting blocks. After making one false start, Lewis was last out of the blocks. Burrell exploded.
"When you get to the blocks, the best man that day wins," Lewis said.
The best man this day was Burrell. Blacking out for 80 meters. Tiring for 20. Holding on as Lewis surged. In the stands,their coach, Tom Tellez, stood calmly. It was just like a practice.
"Carl ran the better race totally," Tellez said. "He was at least one meter behind, and he came back. The only thing Carl didn't do was react to the gun."
The clock flashed 9.90 seconds. Lewis was second in 9.93 seconds. Don't forget Dennis Mitchell, third in 10.00, just ahead of Andre Cason, also timed in 10.00. History's fastest, deepest sprint.
"Sometimes, things happen; sometimes, they don't," Burrell said. You get halfway down the track before you know it, you know something special is happening."
His day was not yet over. Later, he would run and win in a 200-meter heat. Then, he would walk through interviews. Television. Print. The sport's newest overnight star was tiring again. He closed his eyes and sat back in a chair. The record-holder was at peace.
"It's like you've reached the party of all parties," he said. "You don't know if you can improve on that."