Butch Reynolds and Danny Everett broke the vaunted 44-second barrier in the 400-meter dash, and Joe DeLoach upset his training partner, Carl Lewis, in the 200-meter dash to highlight Wednesday night's U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials.
Reynolds, a lithe 6-foot-3, 175-pounder, clocked a startling time of 43.93 on a cool breezy evening in Indianapolis to win the 400 one step ahead of Everett, who clocked 43.98. They are the second and fourth fastest times in history, respectively, and the top two times ever run at sea level. Only two other men, Lee Evans and Larry James, have ever run under 44 seconds and that was 20 years ago in the high altitude (7,000 feet) of the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Games. Evans ran 43.86 and James 43.97."Under better weather conditions, I think three of us would have run under 44 and there probably would have been a world record," said Everett, whose UCLA teammate, Steve Lewis, finished third in 44.37.
"The pressure is off; now I'm ready for the Olympics," said Reynolds.
Wednesday evening's competition began with the 400, and ended with the 200, which delivered another big surprise. DeLoach, the 21-year-old NCAA champion from the University of Houston, ran down Carl Lewis in the final 15 meters to win with a time of 19.96. Carl Lewis, the defending Olympic 200-meter champion, was second in 20.01 and Roy Martin, another youngster (at 21) was third in 20.05 (Albert Robinson also clocked 20.05 but was edged for the third spot on the Olympic team). Calvin Smith, the two-time world 200-meter champion who ranked No. 1 in the world last year, could do no better than fifth, with a 20.27.
Earlier in the evening, another top American was knocked out of the Olympic Games in the women's 400-meter hurdle final. Like Smith, Judi Brown King, the American record holder and the 1984 silver medalist, placed fifth. Schowonda Williams won the race with a meet-record time of 54.93. Leslie Maxie was second (55.29) and Latanya Sheffield third (55.70.
Wednesday's competition was hampered by day-long rain showers, which eventually forced the postponement of the pole vault competition until Thursday morning. By evening the rain stopped, just in time for the start of the 400, the day's premier event.
The results of the 400 heats earlier in the week had boded well for a record or near-record performance Wednesday. "I knew the field was loaded," said Reynolds, whose brother, Jeff, ran 44.98 in the quarterfinals - and failed to advance to the semifinals. Similarly, Darrell Robinson ran 44.99 in the semifinals but couldn't make the finals.
In all, the 45-second barrier was broken 11 times in Monday's semifinals, which caused head Olympic track coach Stan Huntsman to say, "I think this is the best group of quarter-milers that America has had in a long time."
In Monday's semifinals, the 19-year-old Steve Lewis ran 44.11, the second fastest ever at sea level, and Everett and Reynolds clocked 44.32 and 44.65, respectively. Suddenly, expectations were high for a record assault in the final - expectations that actually began a year ago when Reynolds ran a low-altitude world record of 44.10.
"I predict there will be a world record in the 400," Huntsman told one local reporter.
The only question was whether a headwind in the backstretch, combined with the cool temperatures, would hinder the performances.
Antonio McKay and Steve Lewis led the field through the first 200 meters, but in the turn Reynolds and Everett took charge. They entered the homestretch with Reynolds holding the slightest of leads, and ran evenly to the tape, with Steve Lewis close behind. Kevin Robinzine was fourth in 44.61 and Antonio McKay, the 1984 Olympic bronze medalist, fifth.
"The guys ran unbelieveable," said McKay.
Asked what he considers his ultimate goal to be, Reynolds said, "Maybe a sub 42."
For now, Evans' elusive world record still stands, but its days seem to be numbered. "I think it will take under 44 seconds to medal in the Olympics," said former world record holder John Smith, who coaches Steve Lewis and Everett. "For these guys to do this under these conditions . . . ."
Certainly their best days would seem to be ahead of them. The top four finishers are all between the ages of 19 and 22.
There's young blood in the sprints, as well. DeLoach and Martin, who competed against each other regularly in high school four years ago, are just 21 years old. And both are Olympians.
Carl Lewis, 27, the quadruple Olympic gold medalist in 1984, was going for his third win of the Olympic trials after collecting victories in the 100 and long jump. In the 200, he held the lead coming out of the turn, but DeLoach, Martin and Robinson closed down the homestretch. Carl Lewis, apparently feeling the effects of four 100-meter heats, seven long jump attempts and three 200-meter heats, tied up late in the race and DeLoach passed him.
"I'm not surprised," said DeLoach. "I've been running great this year." DeLoach won the NCAA championships in June with a world yearly best of 19.87.
"I've had a lot of hard races," said Carl Lewis. "I'm tired. By September (and the Olympics) I'll run better."