HAVANA -- It wasn't the heat, it wasn't the smashed hurdle, it wasn't even the competition that got to Torrance Zellner of Woodlawn yesterday.
"It was the rice," he said. "That's all I've eaten around here. Rice for breakfast. Rice for lunch. Rice for dinner. I had to stay with the food I knew."
Rice apparently was the meal for bronze medalists at the Pan American Games. Zellner came from behind to finish third in the men's 400-meter hurdles at Pan American Stadium.
"I didn't want third, I didn't want second, I wanted first," Zellner said. "Everyone says it was real good -- third-fastest person on this side of the Atlantic. But that doesn't mean anything."
Zellner ran ferociously in searing heat, finishing in 50.21 seconds. Eronildes Nundez de Araujo of Brazil won in 49.96, with Neal McClinton of the United States second in 50.05.
Zellner, a 1988 Woodlawn High School graduate and senior-to-be at the University of Florida, spent the past few weeks training alone in Baltimore. He was trying to recover from a taxing two weeks of racing in Puerto Rico.
"I got sick on the road," he said. "I lost my strength. But I kept training, and I felt like I was starting to get stronger."
Zellner absorbed a blow three hurdles into yesterday's race, smashing into a barrier with his trail leg. But he kept his balance and remained in contention, seizing third place on the final hurdle and sprinting to the finish. When he crossed the line, he dropped to the track.
"I was just upset at myself," he said. "All that training leading up to this meet. I really wanted to do well. It was kind of like a mental letdown."
Despite his disappointment, Zellner said he remains convinced that he is ready for a breakthrough next year at the 1991 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
"I'm a contender now," he said. "I've got a lot of training to do. I take things very hard. I'll have to keep working.