Evans now gets kick from his role as coach Ex-400 record holder teaches in Saudi Arabia

June 04, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

He held the world record in the 400 meters for 20 years. The Olympic record he set in 1968 in Mexico City didn't fall until the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona.

But for most of his athletic afterlife, Lee Evans has worked with sprinters who barely could qualify for the Olympic Games, let alone compete for a gold medal. First in Nigeria, where he built its national program from scratch and coached its 4 x 400 relay team to a bronze medal in the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. Then in Qatar, where one of his sprinters became his country's first Olympic finalist.

And now in Saudi Arabia.

"The hardest thing is teaching them how to be competitive," said Evans, whose own competitiveness is legendary among longtime track-and-field fans.

It was for professional and personal reasons that Evans, now 49, found himself seeking work in faraway places. He went to Nigeria in 1975 as part of his job for the U.S. Information Agency and wound up as the country's national coach for six years. He met his wife, Irene, while touring Africa for the USIA. He was quick to realize that the national federations in the oil-rich Middle East were willing to pay much higher salaries for its coaches than in the United States.

"It's a nice lifestyle," he said.

Though two of his current sprinters have qualified for the 1996 Summer Games, Evans said neither will be as successful as the Nigerians who finished third in Los Angeles or even find the individual success of Qatar's Ibrahim Ismail, who finished seventh in the 400 in Barcelona. The Saudis are in the midst of training in the mile-high altitude of Albuquerque.

From a distance, Evans also has been following the hype surrounding Michael Johnson. Evans can relate to the pressure Johnson is under, or at least half of it. Though dominant at 400 meters, Evans never considered doubling up to run the 200 as well. Evans said he likely would not have beaten either John Carlos or Tommie Smith in that event.

Evans called Johnson "the best 400-meter man since me." Even though Butch Reynolds broke his world record, Evans said, "I was a more consistent sprinter." What Evans recalls most from Barcelona is watching Quincy Watts break his long-standing Olympic record in the semifinals. "He ran 43.70 and walked away like it was nothing," said Evans. "I ran 43.86 and could barely walk."

How stupid can you be?

U.S. Olympic soccer coach Bruce Arena recently complained about the difficulty of his team's draw in the preliminary rounds. That wouldn't be so bad, except that the former University of Virginia coach certainly sounded like the "Ugly American" in an article in Soccer America.

Arena was quoted as saying, "Only in America could have stuff like this happen. We're too stupid to fix a draw. We're nice Americans. We don't cheat. Soccer is the biggest cheating sport in the world, and we still haven't learned how to cheat, on or off the field. In what country would the home team get a draw like this?"

The United States will open with Argentina on July 21 in Birmingham, Ala., but former Loyola star Zach Thornton will not be there. Thornton, who had been used a backup goaltender throughout the U.S. team's training camp, was dropped from the roster May 25 and released to his pro team (New York-New Jersey Metro Stars of the Major League Soccer).

Meanwhile, former Oakland Mills and University of Virginia star Clint Peay did not dress for Saturday's 1-0 loss to Ireland in Davidson, N.C., but another former Columbia high school star, Hamisi Amani-Dove (Wilde Lake), recently joined the team and played the entire game. Thori Staples of Jappatowne remains on the women's team.

The teeth of the matter

After sweating out the decision by U.S. cycling coach Chris Carmichael, Alison Dunlap gave an interesting reaction when named as one of the three women on the road cycling team. She compared it to having undergone a root canal two years ago after knocking out three teeth during a fall. "This was probably worse, though," she said. "At least for the root canal you got Novocain."

Countdown

Days until opening ceremonies: 45.

No Flo Jo: Injuries will prevent Florence Griffith Joyner and her husband, Al, from realizing their dream of an Olympic track and field comeback next month. Griffith Joyner, 36, who sprinted to Olympic glory and world records in the 100- and 200-meter dashes in the Seoul Games eight years ago, has tendinitis in her right leg. "It's heartbreaking," she said. Al Joyner's hope of competing in the triple jump has been dashed by an injured quadriceps muscle in his right leg. He also is 36.

Pub Date: 6/04/96

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