NEW ORLEANS -- The race beat him. Drained him until you could see the strength ebb from his legs, and the grimace cut across his face.
For a week, he had taken a sport for a ride from the Supreme Court to "Nightline" to Tad Gormley Stadium. But in the end, not even guts, heart and principle could carry Butch Reynolds through a final 100 meters.
Last night, with heat and humidity hanging like a cloud, and the fastest field in history sprinting off a curve, Reynolds faded to fifth and finished in a walk in the men's 400 final at the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.
Danny Everett ran from the shadow cast by Reynolds to win in 43.81 seconds. It was the second fastest time in history, bettered only by Reynolds' 4-year-old world record of 43.29.
Steve Lewis, the 1988 Olympic gold medalist, was second in 44.08. Quincy Watts, the reigning NCAA champion from Southern California, was third in 44.22.
Reynolds, fourth-place finisher Andrew Valmon and sixth-place finisher Darnell Hall earned spots on the U.S. 4 x 400 relay team for the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. But Reynolds still faces a two-year ban for alleged steroid use, and International Amateur Athletic Federation officials have vowed to block his path to the Olympic starting line.
"I'm certainly glad and happy the Olympic trials are over with," Reynolds said. "I can take a minute and go cry. To be honest, I'm happy and pleased with my performance on and off the track."
No athlete in New Orleans competed under greater stress and scrutiny. With a historic Supreme Court order as a wedge, Reynolds barged his way into the trials, staring down the IAAF's bureaucracy and ignoring a threatened boycott by his competitors who feared being subjected to four-year international bans.
Reynolds became big news, worldwide. Camera crews hounded him. "Nightline" interviewed him. A security detail surrounded him.
"This has taken a lot out of me," he said. "Too much pressure. I'm tired. Exhausted."
For a few moments, New Orleans felt like Broadway on an opening night, as the runners walked to the blocks, the crowd stirring and applauding.
"When you know the best in the world is there with you, the emotion bleeds you," Reynolds said.
Dressed in a red tank top and black shorts, Reynolds controlled the middle in lane 4. To his left, in lane 3, was Watts, the fireball whose semifinal time of 43.97 was the fourth fastest in history. To his right, were Lewis, in lane 5, and Everett in lane 6.
After one false start snapped the tension, Reynolds took off. For 300 meters he led, using his attacking style to bolt past his rivals. But as the field came off the final curve into a headwind, it was Reynolds who was staggering, and the others who were surging.
There was Everett, the reigning Olympic bronze medalist, loping alone, gobbling up meters with a steely grace. There was Lewis, a flash of sinew and muscle, sprinting with ease. And there was Watts, slightly worn after three rounds, but at 22, young enough and fierce enough to pass through the pain. Even Valmon popped by Reynolds in the last five meters.
"The first 300 meters, that was all guts and heart," Reynolds said. "I thought those same guts and heart would bring me home, but they didn't."
The night belonged to Everett, 25, who trains with the Santa Monica Track Club. An Achilles' injury sidelined him a month before the trials, so he paced himself through the preliminaries, setting a stage for a gorgeous run through the final.
"This was a culmination of many years of learning," Everett said. "The last few years, I've been the guy coming in third. But I always felt my best race was ahead of me. A lot of people counted me out. It feels good to come here and show your talent. It's good to be overlooked, and then, to put it in their face."
Lewis, too, was overshadowed through the week. But he completed a remarkable recovery from a virus that sidelined him throughout 1990.
"I thought about giving up the sport," he said. "But I wouldn't."
The new kid in the 400 is Watts, the most consistent runner in the prelims who refused to give away third place.
"I didn't have my zip," he said. "I didn't have my aggressiveness. But I still had my strength and my heart to hold off anybody behind me."
That included Reynolds, who faces an uncertain running future. The IAAF has vowed to extend his two-year ban. As a spare on the relay his case becomes less compelling. Still, his lawyers are determined to get him a place in Barcelona.
"With the hell I've been through, to compete in Barcelona would be a victory," Reynolds said. "To finish fifth is a victory, even though it's hard to accept. You have to learn to win and learn to lose."