NEW ORLEANS -- Butch Reynolds is 400 meters from his most difficult race.
Tonight, he can control the outcome in a final duel of speed and courage in the men's 400 at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.
But if he wins that test, he will again be at the mercy of lawyers, courts, and an international sports federation, as he tries to bypass a two-year ban for steroids and run in the Summer Olympics of Barcelona, Spain.
"In my heart, I believe I'll be on that track in Barcelona," Reynolds said. "My attorneys gave me the chance to race. I'll be damned if I'm going to let them down before Barcelona."
Armed with an historic Supreme Court order, Reynolds has passed through three rounds of the trials. He was the second fastest qualifier for tonight's final, which includes reigning NCAA champion Quincy Watts of Southern California, and 1988 Olympic medalists Steve Lewis and Danny Everett.
"I feel every bit of pain now," said Reynolds, 28, the world-record holder and 1988 Olympic silver medalist. "My ribs and feet are sore. Everything is sore."
But Reynolds races on to an uncertain future. Normally, a top-three finish would put him in the Olympic 400, and a top-six finish would put him in the 4x400 relay. But the International Amateur Athletic Federation has vowed to block his path to the Barcelona Games.
Reynolds' attorneys say they will continue their fight against the IAAF, which began when Reynolds tested positive for nandrolone at an Aug. 12, 1990 meet in Switzerland. The question remains, where do they go from here? They can take their case to courts in Spain, site of the Olympics, or England and Italy, bases of operations for the IAAF. A $12.5 million suit filed by Reynolds against the IAAF is pending in Columbus, Ohio.
Still, a court fight remains a gamble. Just ask Randy Barnes, the world-record holder in the shot put whose bid to overturn a drug suspension hit a dead end yesterday. U.S. District Judge John T. Copenhaver Jr. overturned a lower court order that would have permitted Barnes to participate in the trials.
Despite uncertainty, Reynolds talks of beginning final training for Barcelona, taking aim at his world record and winning a gold medal.
"I've been though so much pressure," he said. "I wouldn't put this on my worst enemy. But I feel I'm the leader of this group. I'm going to lead us to a medal sweep in Barcelona. Anything can happen."