Reigning champ denied spot on 100-meter team


June 21, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

NEW ORLEANS -- He crossed the finish line and looked to his right, focusing on the cluster of bodies that passed through the tape.

It was a strange view. He was accustomed to being in front, raising his arms in triumph. And now, he was defeated.

The officials and photographers swarmed him, walked him up the track like bodyguards surrounding a rock star. From the stands came the cheers so warm you almost forgot how hot and humid it was as summer came roaring into New Orleans.

Carl Lewis was beaten. Beaten badly.

The story in yesterday's men's 100 meters at the U.S. Olympic trials wasn't that Dennis Mitchell won in 10.09 seconds. That Mark Witherspoon was second. That Leroy Burrell was third.

The story was Lewis and the end of an era.

The world-record holder, the two-time reigning Olympic champion, Lewis was sixth in 10.28. If he gets to the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, he'll have to qualify as a long jumper, or a 200-meter sprinter.

The 100 no longer belongs to him.

"Today wasn't my day," Lewis said. "To run as flat as I did, you don't make the Olympic team. I just didn't have it. That's the way it is. This is a little disappointment; it's not the end of the world."

The men's 100 was supposed to provide the emotional push on Day 2 of the trials. Instead, that lift came in the women's 100.

Gwen Torrence, despite a damaged hip flexor, won in 10.97. Gail Devers was second in 11.02. And Evelyn Ashford qualified for her fourth Olympic team by dipping her shoulder through the tape and finishing third in 11.17.

"I'm 35, I can't believe this," Ashford said. "I'm not supposed to be running like this. I made it."

Surprisingly, Lewis didn't advance to Barcelona. At least, not yet.

He had struggled in the early spring. But early-season disappointments had never stopped him before.

But he's 30 now. An older man in a sport for kids.

A leg cramp in Friday's preliminaries provided a hint of his fate.

Yesterday, he simply never switched into a higher gear. Two false starts added an edge to the men's final. And when Mitchell caught a flier out of the blocks, Lewis couldn't catch him.

"The false starts were the same," Lewis said. "The weather was )) the same. The guys just ran better."

Mitchell planned it that way. A converted quarter-miler from Cherry Point, N.C., Mitchell worked tenaciously on his starts this spring. Before, the start was his one missing ingredient. But now, at 26, three years out of the University of Florida, he is one of the best sprinters in the world.

"I thought if I could take Carl Lewis and Leroy Burrell out of their comfort zones at the trials, I would have a very good chance of winning the race," he said. "Everything just seemed to click in. At 50 meters, I just shifted into another gear, and it put me in perfect position."

The only sprinters who could keep up with Mitchell were Lewis' Santa Monica Track Club teammates. Witherspoon used a closing burst to finish second, while Burrell, troubled in the heats, nipped another Santa Monica teammate, Mike Marsh, for third.

In the women's 100, Torrence, a 1991 World Championship silver medalist in the 100 and 200, hobbled through the preliminaries. She blasted through the final.

"I was in excruciating pain," she said. "I had to say, 'No pain, no Spain.' "

Devers continued in her comeback from Graves' disease, finishing comfortably in second.

"A year ago the doctors said I was two days away from losing my feet," she said. "Now, I'm an Olympian. I can't believe it."

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