Deal turns 2nd chance to 2nd place Last throw hammers out first U.S. medal since '56

Atlanta Olympics

July 29, 1996|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- The choice seemed obvious to Lance Deal, even if it seemed absurd to everyone else.

He gave up a promising college football career in 1979 to pursue a track and field event so obscure that no American had won an Olympic medal in it during his lifetime. He walked away from a football scholarship at Montana State and had to listen to his coach tell him he didn't have what it takes to be a big-time athlete.

"Ancient history," said Deal, who became the first American to win a medal in the hammer throw since 1956 with his surprising second-place finish yesterday at the XXVI Olympiad.

The hammer throw used to be a prominent event in the United States back when Hal Connelly won a bronze medal in 1952 and came back to win gold in 1956, but it declined in popularity when Eastern bloc athletes began to dominate the sport.

Deal, 34, doesn't expect to change the way America looks at the hammer throw, but in one explosive burst of strength, he changed the complexion of yesterday's competition and nearly pulled off a tremendous upset.

He came within 4 inches of gold-medal winner Balazs Kiss of Hungary with a final throw that sailed nearly 10 feet farther than any of his other attempts in the final round.

"I just kept remembering the last thing my coach [Stewart Togher] said to me: 'It only takes one throw,' " Deal said, holding up his index finger. "I went over to see my wife right before and she was thinking the same thing."

The hammer landed 266 feet, 2 inches away and Deal threw his fist into the air as he saw his name move from eighth place to second on the giant scoreboard at Olympic Stadium, just ahead of Ukrainian Oleksiy Krykun. It was an amazing turn of events.

The top eight competitors after the first three throws advance into the final round, but Deal was tied for eighth with Italy's Enrico Sgrulletti and he had fouled on his other two throws. He assumed that the tie would be broken by going to the next-best throw -- and he didn't have one -- so he plopped down and sat with his head in his hands, then took off his shoes and his shirt and prepared to leave the field.

The rules in Olympic competition allow all of the competitors with a qualifying distance to advance, but Deal didn't realize that until the announcer read his name among the list of finalists.

"I felt that I had failed and I had failed miserably," Deal said. "To get a second chance and then come within 10 [actually 12] centimeters of the gold medal, I was pretty excited."

Kiss, a two-time NCAA champion for the University of Southern California, was sitting on a throw of 266 feet, 6 inches, but he had one throw left when Deal nearly eclipsed him.

"It was amazing," said Kiss, who questioned the lack of international judges in the event after having what he thought was a clean throw taken away. "He had almost given up and then his last throw almost beats me. That's fantastic. It just kept going."

Pub Date: 7/29/96

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