From false starts to photo finish, sprints make for wacky races ATLANTA OLYMPICS

July 28, 1996|By Ken Rosenthal | Ken Rosenthal,SUN COLUMNIST

ATLANTA -- Leave it to track and field. On a night when the Olympics needed its events to reclaim center stage, the 100-meter finals posed not one, but two, burning questions.

For the women, head or torso?

For the men, has Linford gone mad?

Wait, there's Great Britain's Linford Christie now, still shirtless, the stadium lights gleaming off his chiseled torso, completing his victory lap around the track.

Linford was disqualified, you say?

It's a bloody outrage.

Two false starts by Christie, another by Trinidad and Tobago's Ato Boldon, and the fastest 10 seconds in sports took approximately 15 minutes.

Amazing, then, that Canada's Donovan Bailey remained poised enough to set the world record in the men's 100, winning in 9.84 seconds.

"That was the most unprofessional race I've been in in my life," said fourth-place finisher Dennis Mitchell of the United States.

Bailey's stunning victory brought the Canadian 100-meter soap opera full circle -- another Jamaican-born Canadian, Ben Johnson, ran a 9.79 to win the gold eight years ago in Seoul, South Korea, then lost his medal and world record after testing positive for steroids.

But on this night, who even noticed?

The United States' Gail Devers became only the second woman in Olympic history to win back-to-back 100-meter golds, but Jamaica filed an appeal on behalf of Merlene Ottey, who took the silver in a photo finish.

The runners lingered on the track several minutes, awaiting the official results, just as they did in Barcelona, Spain, in 1992. Once again, Devers leaped into the arms of her coach, Bob Kersee, after being announced the winner.

Ottey was less celebratory.

"If it was the head, Gail was there first. If it was the torso, I was there first," said Ottey, 36, who recorded her highest finish in five Olympic appearances. "There's a problem there."

The rules apparently say torso is the first criteria, but Jamaica has about as much chance of winning its appeal as Angola did of defeating the Dream Team.

Frankly, the juicier story to emerge from this race might be "Gail and Gwen, the best of friends." Yes, that was Devers taking a victory lap with bronze medalist, U.S. teammate and longtime rival Gwen Torrence.

It was Torrence who accused two of the three medalists of using performance-enhancing drugs in Barcelona, smearing Devers and Ottey by implication. But Torrence actually clapped for Devers after the results became known.

"I've answered so many questions about the rivalry between Gwen and I," Devers said. "There is no rivalry. Gwen and I are competitors. When we step on the track, there's going to be a good show. It doesn't mean we don't like each other."

If only the same could be said for Christie and Boldon, who needed to be separated by U.S. sprinter Jon Drummond in the "mixed zone," an area where reporters seek interviews and the sprinters collect their gear.

Christie, 36, reportedly grew upset upon learning that Boldon, 22, said he was distracted by the defending Olympic champion's refusal to leave the track after his disqualification.

"You're showing me disrespect," Christie told the bronze medalist, with the two runners shouting at each other face-to-face until Drummond interceded on behalf of Boldon, his training partner.

Boldon led for approximately 50 meters, then got chased down by Bailey, who got off to a slow start.

"I allowed the goings-on at the start to affect me," Boldon said. "I just chalk that up to inexperience. I have the utmost respect for Linford. It's nothing against him. He's one of the reasons I decided to run track."

Christie is a beaut, isn't he?

First, he couldn't decide whether to come to the Olympics. Then, he couldn't decide whether to leave.

He paced. He anguished. He protested.

He gestured. He brooded. He stared.

This just in: Linford has left the building.

For a while there, it appeared he might reprise the protest of the tortured Korean boxer in Seoul and stage a sit-down strike.

"It's a shame to go out this way," Christie said. "I'm just sorry for the people of the Britain. If it was anywhere else but the USA, I'm sure I would have been in there."

Well, he wasn't.

"We were all standing there wondering what the holdup was," Bailey said. "No matter what the decision was, I still had to run my own race. It actually made me more relaxed. I had time to relax and think about what I had to do."

It was great theater, on a night the Olympics needed great theater.

4 Leave it to track to pose the burning questions.

For the women, head or torso?

For the men, has Linford gone mad?

Pub Date: 7/28/96

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