NEW ORLEANS -- It was hot. Temperatures in the 90s. Humidity hovering at 50 percent. Sweat pouring off every spectator. Athletes hovering under umbrellas.
Torrance Zellner kept telling himself last night he should be used to the heat. Raised in Baltimore. Nurtured on the University of Florida track in Gainesville.
The man knows heat.
"There is your dry heat," he said. "Then, there is your wet heat. Real moist. This is a little hotter than Florida. This is real hot."
It was so hot that Zellner almost ran himself right out of the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. But after leading his preliminary before faltering badly on the last three hurdles, Zellner survived and advanced.
"You have to put this race out of your mind," said Zellner, after his clocking of 50.16 was fast enough to put him into today's semifinals.
Zellner had come into the trials hoping to run faster. Fact is, the 1988 Woodlawn High School graduate has his sights set on picking up a berth at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain.
With Edwin Moses retired and 1988 Olympic champion Andre Phillips sidelined, the 400 hurdles is wide open. The only competitor who could be considered a sure-thing to get to Barcelona is Kevin Young, fastest first-round finisher at 48.57.
Zellner came into the meet with only the seventh fastest time. But he had an excuse: limited training after twice having his left wrist set to repair an old injury.
"I broke the wrist playing sandlot football at Woodlawn," he said. "It was just a pick-up game."
Zellner was in a cast a month ago. He resumed full workouts only recently and was still trying to build endurance for a demanding race.
He started the third heat in Lane 8, using a quick start to gain an advantage he carried through to the final turn. But he faded as David Patrick (49.68), Octavius Terry (49.90) and Nathaniel Page (49.98) surged past him by the tape.
* Wendy Vereen, a 1988 Morgan State University graduate, passed through the first two rounds of the women's 100. She was the ninth fastest qualifier in the second heat at 11.30 seconds.
"I knew I had a chance to get to the finals coming into the meet," Vereen said. "I think I'm going to be alright and get into that final."
Diana Pitts of Coppin State failed to advance in the women's 800, finishing seventh in 2:08.14 in her opening heat. Kellie Roberts, of Seat Pleasant, Md., and the University of Texas, won her heat and was the No. 3 qualifier overall at 56.20 in the women's 400 hurdles.
Stephen Kartalia of Westminster advanced to the men's 10,000-meter final. Kartalia finished last night's preliminaries in 33:01.70. He was last in his heat, but it didn't matter, since 10 runners advanced and David Mora of Indiana, the 11th runner, dropped out.
* Carl Lewis, world-record holder in the men's 100, got through two rounds, but not without a little struggle.
"I was cramping in the block," he said. "My calves cramped the entire race."
Lewis and his training partner, Leroy Burrell, headed to their showdown today in the 100.
Lewis won his first heat yesterday in 10.33, but was beaten in the second by another training partner, Mike Marsh. Marsh was timed in 10.09 to Lewis' 10.17.
Burrell opened with a 10.09. But in the second round, he finished second to the little-known Ricky Carrigan of Compton College.
The biggest loser in the 100 was Andre Cason, the 1991 world indoor sprint champion whose left Achilles tendon gave out 50 meters into his opening race. Cason, who entered the meet with a tendon injury, was taken from the track on a stretcher.
* Don't look now, but Mary Slaney is poised to complete another comeback. Slaney was the second fastest qualifier in the women's 3,000 meters, finishing in 9:04.36. PattiSue Plumer was first in 9:02.42.