BARCELONA, Spain -- Four days before the opening ceremonies for the 1988 Summer Olympics, Cuba's Javier Sotomayor broke the world record for the high jump in a meet in Spain. But instead of boarding a plane bound for Seoul, South Korea, as the gold-medal favorite, he returned home as a pawn in a political game that brought him quickly back to earth.
When Cuba boycotted the Games in 1988, as it had in 1984, none of its athletes was more deprived than Sotomayor, so dominant in his event that less than a year later he would become the first and, so far, the only person to clear eight feet.
Deprived was the word he used when speaking to reporters yesterday. It might have been a faulty interpretation from Spanish to English. Or it might not have been.
In any case, the disappointment was nothing more than a memory after he won the high jump yesterday. When he realized that the victory was his, only the fourth in history for Cuba in track and field, he put his head in his hands and cried.
"It was a great moment that I hoped to come," he said. "But I didn't think it would necessarily happen."
Nor did almost anyone else. Sotomayor holds the world record at 8 feet even, set in 1989, but various injuries have prevented him from even approaching that in the past two years. The best he could do yesterday was 7-8, the lowest winning height in the Olympics since 1976.
Although four other athletes also jumped 7-8, Sotomayor won because he had fewer misses. Sweden's Patrik Sjoberg was second, and the United States' Hollis Conway, Australia's Tim Forsythe and Poland's Artur Partyka tied for third.
Conway's bronze, to go with his silver from 1988, was one of two medals won by the United States in track and field yesterday. The other was Jackie Joyner-Kersee's gold in the heptathlon.
Jud Logan of North Canton, Ohio, came close in the hammer throw with a fourth-place finish, the United States' best finish in the event since Harold Connolly won in 1956. Logan finished behind three members of the Unified Team -- Andrei Abduvaliyev (270-9), Igor Astapkovich at 268-11 and Igor Nikulin at 267-0.
Russia's Elena Romanova and defending Olympic and world champion Tatiana Dorovskikh of the Ukraine finished 1-2 in a slow, tactical 3,000-meter race. Romanova's winning time of 8:46.04 was almost 20 seconds behind Dorovskikh's at Seoul.
PattiSue Plumer, 30, failed in her attempt to become the first American to medal in the women's 3,000 meters. Plumer, a lawyer from California, finished fifth, and the other American in the race, Shelly Steely, came in seventh.
Plumer said she suffered from severe pain in her left leg after the preliminary on Friday and was contemplating not running.
"I hoped that the adrenalin would make up for what I was lacking, and it didn't," she said after the race, in which she stayed with the lead group into the final lap.
"Don't get me wrong," she said. "I'm not saying I didn't win the race because of my leg. All I'm saying is that I didn't have the race I wanted to have because of my leg."
The other track and field events, all preliminaries, promised better days ahead for the American contingent. Eleven Americans competed in four events, and all advanced.
In men's 800 meters, Johnny Gray and Mark Everett advanced to tonight's final. Paul Ereng of Kenya, the defending Olympic champion, failed to advance.
In the 110-meter hurdles, Jack Pierce, who attended Morgan State, Tony Dees and Arthur Blake all advance to today's semifinals.
In the men's 400, Danny Everett, Quincy Watts and defending Olympic champion Steve Lewis moved to the semifinals. And in the women's 400, former Morgan State runner Rochelle Stevens, Natasha Kaiser and Jearl Miles did the same. Semifinals and finals of both the 400-meter races are scheduled Wednesday.