NEW ORLEANS -- Armed with a U.S. Supreme Court order, 400-meter world record holder Butch Reynolds vows to race today in the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.
But will anyone else compete against him?
The question now hangs over the trials after yet another extraordinary day in court and on the track.
Justice John Paul Stevens cleared the way for Reynolds to run, an hour before yesterday's scheduled start of the men's 400 meters.
But the race was called on account of confusion, controversy, and a potential boycott by Reynolds' foes.
Two rounds of heats were rescheduled to begin today at 1 p.m. EDT. Reynolds promised to show up. But at least 29 of the 31 other competitors, fearing an international ban, voted to skip the event.
"We're not going to run," said Tony Miller of Baylor. "I'm going home."
Reynolds' foes feared the wrath of the International Amateur Athletic Federation. Track's international ruling body has threatened to apply a "contamination" rule to those who compete against Reynolds, who is serving a two-year ban after allegedly testing positive for steroids at a meet in Monte Carlo in 1990.
"Butch shouldn't run," Steve Lewis said. "He's being selfish."
But Reynolds has the law on his side. Justice Stevens brief opinion overturned an Ohio court ruling barring Reynolds from competing in the trials.
The Athletics Congress, which oversees track in the United States, petitioned to have all nine justices hear the case. That application was denied last night.
"I've waited 21 months for this," Reynolds said as he warmed up for what was supposed to be the start of the race.
But the event was pushed back as Reynolds' foes expressed outrage. "They told us that if we run we get suspended for four years," said Darnell Hall of Detroit. "If we don't run there is no way we can go to the Olympics. That is no kind of option for us."
Reynolds met with his potential competitors, including his brother Jeff, yesterday and attempted to explain his position. Danny Everett, the 1988 Olympic bronze medalist, pleaded with Reynolds not to jeopardize the other athletes.
"Butch lectured us and told us he was disappointed that we didn't step behind him," Everett said. "He said that as black citizens, we should look out for each other. I agree with Butch. But he should have come to us before this."
Brooks Johnson, Reynolds' coach, said the other athletes are motivated by money. If they are banned world-wide, the athletes would not be able to reap the rewards of appearance fees from meet promoters.
"They don't want to get hurt in the pocket," Johnson said. "You don't have to be clairvoyant about this. But no athlete out here stands to lose more than Butch. This is a guy with a reservoir of strength. But I can't tell you at what point he'll hit the wall."
Since testing positive for nandrolone in 1990, Reynolds has claimed his innocence, stating that his drug test was improperly handled.
But he nearly gave up his fight Friday night.
A district court judge in Columbus, Ohio, had issued a preliminary injunction Friday permitting Reynolds to run. But an appeals court judge in Cincinnati, Ohio, blocked Reynolds, staying the injunction.
Reynolds' attorneys said the case was closed. But yesterday, they appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
In his ruling, Justice Stevens sided with the district court opinion that the harm to Reynolds would outweigh the affects of a threatened ban on his competitors. He also wrote that, "winning a gold medal in the Olympic Games convinces me that a pecuniary award is not an adequate substitute for the intangible values for which the world's greatest athletes compete."
He noted that his ruling would not establish Reynold's right to compete in Barcelona, and that the issue of banning other athletes would become moot if Reynolds failed to qualify.
But if the U.S. men's 400-meter team is banned from the Barcelona Games, that could set the stage for an historic confrontation between the U.S. Olympic Committee and the IAAF.
"It's the view of the United States Olympic Committee that all athletes who participate [and win Olympic berths] in the Trials will be members of the Olympic team," said Harvey Schiller, executive director of the USOC. For, now, though, there are no assurances that the U.S. will even have a 400-meter team.
Reynolds, surrounded by 11 security guards, may have won in the court. But among his peers, he has emerged as a villain.
"Butch has all those security guards around them. If it wasn't for them, he'd be laid out," said Baylor's Danny Fredericks.
Clyde Hart, the Baylor coach, said, "Who is protecting the kids? Butch Reynolds had his rights. But what about these kids? Our kids will be in the same boat if they run against him."
And competing against Reynolds is an act that some, if not, most may bypass. "I'm 20," Hall said. "I don't want to spend the next four years of my life banned."