NEW ORLEANS -- Carl Lewis walked away from the finish, his eyes searching the stands. Ahead of him, others were celebrating personal triumphs, waving American flags and pumping fists in the air.
Lewis was alone. He had lost. An era had ended.
Last night, in a stadium drenched with humidity and emotion, the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials closed one of the most eagerly anticipated races of the year -- the men's 200-meter final.
But it was new star Michael Johnson, who finished first in 19.79 seconds, fourth fastest in history. And it was an old star, Lewis, who was fourth in a photo finish, .01 from securing a spot in the sprints at the Summer Games of Barcelona.
Afterward, Lewis gave what amounted to a concession speech.
"I don't think by any stretch of the imagination that I am through," said. "This may be an omen. I keep getting hints just to be a long jumper. This just might be the biggest hint of them all."
It was just another sign that a changing of the guard took place at Tad Gormley Stadium.
Jack Pierce, formerly of Morgan State University, won the 110-meter hurdles as three-time world champion Greg Foster was fourth and two-time Olympic champion Roger Kingdom slammed into the 10th hurdle and failed to finish.
Jim Spivey (3 minutes, 36.24 seconds), Steve Holman (3:36.48) and Terrence Herrington (3:37.14) took the top three spots in the 1,500, and three-time Olympian Steve Scott was 13th.
The only star to survive a challenge was reigning Olympic high jump silver medalist Hollis Conway. He cleared 7 feet 8 1/2 , and beat Darrin Plab based on fewer misses. Charles Austin was third at 7-7 1/2 . The heartbreak loser, Milford Mill High School graduate Tony Barton, who also cleared 7-7 1/2 , but was edged out on misses.
"You can't take anything for granted in this meet," Conway said. "After what happened to Carl Lewis, and to Dan O'Brien [in the decathlon], you had to come in here and win."
Johnson won, going away. It was the first time the reigning world champion had met Lewis on the track. It may also have been the last.
"This may have been a big deal to Carl Lewis, but it wasn't a big deal to me," Johnson said. "I didn't put Carl in the same class as the others who have run this year. I'm the first one to give guys credit. At one time, Carl was the greatest 200-meter runner in the world. But this is 1992, and I'm the best in the world."
Running in lane 8, Johnson overwhelmed the field, narrowly missing Pietro Mennea's 13-year-old world record of 19.72 established in the high altitude of Mexico City.
Mike Marsh finished second in 19.86. And Michael Bates was third in 20.14.
Finishing fourth in 20.15, was Lewis, less than a week shy of his 30th birthday.
"People will write me off," Lewis said. "People will say I had a bad day. Some say we have a bad system [of team selection]. I say I'm on the team in the long jump, and I'm going to Barcelona."
Lewis, perhaps the most acclaimed American Olympian of the post-World War II era, is going to Barcelona -- but just barely. He is a spare on the 4x100 relay after a sixth-place finish in the trials 100. He's also the No. 2 long jumper behind Mike Powell.
"Don't count me out," Lewis said.
Foster and Kingdom vowed to comeback in the hurdles. But the fastest man in the event is now Pierce, whose time of 13.13 established a meet record. Tony Dees was second in 13.23 and Arthur Blake was third in 13.30.
The victory capped Pierce's remarkable rise. It was only five years ago that he was working the graveyard shift in a hotel casino in New Jersey.
"I can run with the big boys and beat them," Pierce said.
Spivey also showed he was the toughest man in the 1,500. While pre-race favorite Joe Falcon tumbled on the first lap and finished last, Spivey took over in the second lap.
"For those who saw me on all fours after the race, I wasn't hurt, I didn't pull a muscle, I was thanking God," Spivey said. "I couldn't believe the race was over. I thought someone was going to tell me, 'runners take your mark.' But when you get to that last lap, you think someone is trying to take it away from you. That last lap, I was fighting for something."
The Olympics. Barcelona. Worth running for.