Missed shot very nearly puts Dave out of it

MIKE LITTWIN

August 06, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

BARCELONA, Spain -- OK, let's back up the tape. Dan or Dave, whichever one is left, is in the shot put ring. He has fouled on his first two attempts, and you get only three. On the third, the red flag goes up -- three fouls and you're out -- and the guy at Reebok who invented this once-glorious campaign passes out.

Meanwhile, Dan or Dave, the one who is not left, allows himself a little smile, because, face it, no-heighting in the pole vault as he did in the U.S. trials is one thing, but no-distancing in the shot put is quite another. This goes under the category of Things That Can't Happen for 200.

I mean, how do you no-distance in the shot? It's easier to no-distance in the Indy 500. You take the 16-pound iron ball and you give it a heave. I can throw it 15 feet. Dan or Dave, whichever one's left, gets a zero. It's like getting a zero on the SATs. They give you 400 for signing your name.

So, he's sitting there with no score in the third event, effectively eliminating him from the decathlon, when a senior referee overrules the guy with the red flag. Meaning they gave Dan or Dave -- I'm pretty sure it's Dave; I asked him, and he said it was Dave -- another chance, a fourth throw.

Of course, Dave hits a personal best -- 50 feet, 1 3/4 inches -- which is what the Olympics are all about. Well, it's not all they're about. They're also about the three countries who protested the decision, showing that not only Americans whine, although we certainly lead the competition. The protest was disallowed.

And Dave -- it's definitely Dave -- says: "That was almost the shot heard 'round the world." Which makes for pretty good copy. I think Emerson, a great ad man, wrote it first.

So, where does it leave us?

Well, it leaves Dave in ninth place, with 4,154 points -- 356 out of the lead -- after the first five events of the two-day, 10-event contest. His principal competition, a Czech named Robert Zmelik, is in second place with 4,435. According to those who claim to know, the two are positioned to fight it out for the gold today.

Dave, who had what he called an average first day, has the second-day record in the decathlon. If the favorites follow their best second-day efforts, Dave -- look for him to take the lead in the javelin, the ninth event -- would win by eight points.

Not that anyone will notice because tonight is Carl Lewis night at the Olympics. He takes on Mike Powell in the long jump, and I'm guessing Lewis is going 29-plus.

But I'll ask again: How do you no-distance in the shot put?

"It shouldn't happen," Dave says.

He's wearing his official U.S. team Nike track gear -- hey, Mike Jordan, you gotta like that -- and these new-wave, wraparound sunglasses that look like what you'd wear if you were driving through plutonium. And he says things like "bummer" a lot.

"It's a little different situation than Dan's," he says, answering the obvious question. "The shot put's a little easier to get a mark on than the pole vault."

People mess up in the pole vault. Any decathlete will tell you he's scared to death of the pole vault. You miss the first jump at your first height, and you get nervous. You miss the second, and you get nuts.

Nobody is afraid of the shot put, unless you have to catch it. But Dave was.

"I was worried," he says of the ruling. "I didn't think it would go my way."

The one official who ruled that he fouled -- by stepping out of the circle -- was a bit tentative, though. And the senior official was pretty positive. They argued for two, maybe three minutes. Maybe one guy liked the commercials.

"It seemed like an hour," Dave says. "I didn't know what they were saying. I don't know Spanish."

NB When he got the ruling, he considered just taking a standstill

throw, to avoid risking a foul. He says he can do about 46 feet that way. But he didn't.

"This is the Olympics and you've got to let it all out and see what you can do," he says. "When I threw it, I thought it was about 45 feet. I think somebody must have picked it up and thrown it a little farther for me."

And how do you think the fans responded? That's right: They hated him. When he returned to the stadium for the evening session, they jeered and whistled and would have thrown tomatoes at him if they had thought to bring any.

"That was a bummer," Dave says. "I'm not used to that. I can understand why they did it. But it wasn't my fault. I just did what the referee told me to do.

"I hope they realize we're all just guys out there doing our best. The country doesn't mean anything."

But even Dan, who's here as a broadcaster, wasn't prepared to back his old commercial foe.

"It's a judgment call," Dan says of the foul calls. "If you call the first one, you've got to call the last one. He got lucky. It's a good thing he goes to church."

You could see how Dan might think that way. Despite what you might have guessed from the shoe campaign, Dan was pretty much a lock to win the gold here. He was going to break Daley Thompson's record and make a million bucks. Instead, he missed his height in New Orleans. That can happen. This could not.

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