NEW ORLEANS -- A U.S. Supreme Court justice and a world-record holder determined to race in the Olympics threw American track and field into chaos yesterday.
Justice John Paul Stevens cleared the way for Butch Reynolds to run in the U.S. Olympic Trials.
But Reynolds' race was postponed until 1 p.m. today, as meet officials attempted to quell a potential boycott by the other competitors in the men's 400 meters. At stake was the Olympic eligibility of those who compete against Reynolds, who is serving a two-year international ban for alleged steroid use.
At a meeting early last night, 29 of Reynolds' 31 potential competitors voted not to run. The vote was unanimous, since one runner skipped the meeting, and the other is Reynolds' younger brother, Jeff.
"All 29 hands went up," said Tony Miller of Baylor. "We're not going to run. I'm going home."
Reynolds' extraordinary legal triumph came after his attorneys filed an unexpected appeal to the Supreme Court.
Justice Stevens issued a brief opinion at 2 p.m., an hour before the race was due to start, overturning an Ohio court ruling barring Reynolds from competing in the trials.
"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."
The last-ditch legal maneuvering began at noon when Reynolds' attorneys, reversing a previously announced course, filed an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
A district court judge in Columbus, Ohio, had issued a preliminary injunction Friday permitting Reynolds to run. But an appeals court judge in Cincinnati blocked Reynolds, staying the injunction.
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.
The International Amateur Athletic Federation, track's ruling body, could suspend athletes who race against Reynolds under a so-called "contamination" rule. Theoretically, the entire U.S. track team could be expelled from the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain.
"It is not clear if the 'contamination rule' extends to all athletes competing in the U.S. Trials or just those competing in the 400 meters," said Pete Cava, spokesman for The Athletics Congress, track's ruling body in the U.S.
"We received a fax from the IAAF the other day that simply said, 'We will continue to enforce the rules,' " Cava said.
But if the U.S. team or any of its members are banned, that could set the stage for a 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.
Reynolds met with his potential competitors yesterday and attempted to explain his position. Danny Everett, the 1988 Olympic bronze medalist, pleaded with Reynolds not to jeopardize the other athletes.
"Butch Reynolds is going to run," Hall said. "He didn't spend all that money [a reported $500,000 in legal fees] for nothing. But if I were in his shoes, I'd be satisfied just knowing I proved my point. He went to the highest point. He has the world record. What is he going to prove by sacrificing 31 athletes?"
Brooks Johnson, Reynolds' coach, said the other athletes are motivated by money. If they are banned worldwide, 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 strength. But I can't tell you at what point he'll hit the wall."
Reynolds and his competitors spent the afternoon attending meetings and trying to warm up. Reynolds was surrounded by 11 security guards as he made his way around the Tad Gormley Stadium complex.
An hour before the race originally was scheduled, Steve Lewis, the 1988 Olympic gold medalist, said, "I don't even know if I'm running."
"No one has told us a thing," said Clyde Hart, the Baylor track coach. "We have no idea where we're at. 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."