NEW ORLEANS -- He was out of the sunlight and in the runway, now, the fans leaning over railings, shouting his name, water and sweat pouring off his T-shirt that read: "Drug Free pTC Body." The photographers and cameramen trailed after him, turning over garbage cans and scampering over metal barriers.
He kept waving, and a smile broke across his face, and suddenly, on a weekday afternoon in Tad Gormley Stadium, the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials were pumped full of life.
After 22 months of trying to beat a rap and beat the system, Butch Reynolds finally had his moment on the track yesterday.
In two rounds of sprinting, he attacked the men's 400 meters with a strategy that was as simple to understand as it was electrifying to watch:
Hold nothing back.
Reynolds was the fastest in the afternoon race with a time of 44.58 seconds, seventh best in the world in 1992. And then he came back fivehours later to win a night heat in 44.68 (eighth best in the world) and advance to today's semifinals.
Reynolds is still the longest of shots to get to the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, Spain. But he is now two steps closer to reaching Friday's final.
"My attorney did his stuff in the court, and now it's my turn to do it on the track," Reynolds said.
For a few moments, the stain of Reynolds' two-year suspension for alleged steroid use was erased. So was the rancor caused by a legal fight that ended with the Supreme Court issuing a historic order placing Reynolds in the trials. Even the International Amateur Athletic Federation cooperated. After two days of delays, confusion and threats, the IAAF waived its "contamination" rule, allowing Reynolds' foes to race without fear of incurring four-year bans.
Reynolds arrived in the stadium for his afternoon race, the last of four heats, surrounded by nine New Orleans patrolmen and two military policemen. A crowd of 2,500 gathered, walking through gates thrown open on what was supposed to be a day off. And as Reynolds hit the track wearing a T-shirt that said, "Just Do It," the crowd cheered, and some even stood.
What they saw was a 28-year-old man, gliding through air heavy with heat, humidity and history.
As the runners approached the start, the crowd was silent. Reynolds stripped to his pink and blue singlet and shorts, crouched in the blocks, flexed his left leg twice and kicked his right leg. It was so tense that Detroit's Darnell Hall said: "It was scary, real scary. It made you feel kind of nervous."
A moment after the starter's gun sounded, a fan shouted: "Get 'em, Butch."
Reynolds, running in Lane 7, never lost the advantage of the stagger. As he circled the track the crowd stood and cheered, and in the final straight, he moved with elegance and ferocity, his fists pumping, his head upright, his legs gobbling up meters. He beat second-place finisher Danny Everett, the 1988 Olympic bronze medalist, by .51 of a second.
And then as the photographers swarmed him, a woman from up in the stands threw out a crumpled T-shirt. Reynolds picked up the shirt and held it in his hand, and the woman kept yelling at him, and he finally unfurled it, saw the message of "Drug Free Body," and put it on over his broad shoulders.
Reynolds and the photographers were heading off the track when Hall came up and shook his hand, the only runner to acknowledge his opponent. Animosity clearly remained as the runners who once had threatened to boycott any race Reynolds had entered rather than receive four-year international bans, were now forced to attempt to beat him.
"Butch has a lot of things to prove, and he's going to prove them," Hall said.
Reynolds came back at night and gave another show for a crowd of approximately 10,000. Running in Lane 4, wearing a red top and black shorts, he uncoiled his speed in increments, finally storming down the final 100 straight in 11.3 seconds.
"Running two 44-second races in one day is not easy," he said. "The older I get, the more I feel it. It's all on guts and heart."
Reynolds' world record of 43.29 hangs out there like the only gold medal he can race for this year. IAAF officials have made it clear they intend to ban Reynolds from the Barcelona Summer Games, adding four more years to his suspension. The Supreme Court, they say, can't extend its reach across an ocean.
Reynolds still proclaims his innocence of charges he used the anabolic steroid nandrolone, and still says he can blast through a door and get to Barcelona.
A week ago, he was stuck on the outside of the trials. Now, he has a Supreme Court ticket to the starting line.
His brother Jeff looked on and marveled at it all, the defiant stand followed by the breathtaking races.
"They won't give Butch a break," he said. "They say he doesn't belong here. Yeah, you're right. He's in a class by himself. He wasn't rusty. He wasn't choppy. Oh, man, he has so much stuff built up in him."
And like a Roman candle, Reynolds burned brightly on a track, racing wildly, taking the trials for a ride.