INDIANAPOLIS — Greg Foster was in an all-too-familiar position--out in front in a major hurdles race and apparently cruising to victory.
Nothing, it appeared, could stop Foster. But then, something did.
This time, according to Foster and U.S. teammate Cletus Clark, it was a stray hurdle, flung into Foster's way when Clark fell at the fifth hurdle. That set off a chain of events that ended with Foster stopping two hurdles short of the finish Saturday and Andrew Parker of Jamaica running off with the 110-meter hurdles gold medal in a wind-aided 13.82 seconds.
Foster's loss marred what otherwise was the best day for the U.S. track and field team. The United States won five of seven events, had three 1-2 sweeps and set two Pan American Games records.
In addition, Carl Lewis and Larry Myricks qualified for today's long jump final, though Lewis had trouble with swirling winds at the Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis track. He jumped 26 feet 5 inches, well over the qualifying standard of 25-5. The wind was 2.4 meters per second, over the allowable 2.0 for a legal jump.
But it wasn't the winds that troubled Foster as much as the dark cloud that seems to hang over him in major meets.
Said Clark: "What happened was totally my fault. I know he (Foster) is upset. Saying I'm sorry wouldn't be enough. He was running one of his better times."
If Foster was angry, he didn't show it.
"I feel pretty fine inside and out," he said. "Everyone is going to make a big deal out of this. But it's not a big deal."
Just the latest of a frustrating series of major-meet failures or near-misses that have haunted Foster's otherwise distinguished career.
There was the stumble over the last hurdle that almost cost him his 1983 World Championship, the hesitation at the start of the 1984 Olympic hurdles final that led to his loss to Roger Kingdom and the spectacular wipeout in the World Indoor Championships last March at the Hoosier Dome, just a few blocks away.
"The public does not understand that the 110-meter hurdles is the most difficult race in the world," Foster said. "All you need is a little tap, and it throws everything off.
"You can't afford to make one mistake or you either lose or go down."
Foster's troubles began when Clark, running slightly behind in the lane to his left, hit the fifth hurdle and fell. Clark said he thinks his hurdle then clipped Foster, sending him off balance. Foster hit the sixth and seventh hurdles and stopped.
A protest was made by the U.S. team on Foster's behalf, claiming he was interfered with, but it was turned down by the jury of appeals, chaired by Dr. Leroy Walker of the United States.
"I am the best in the world right now, and it shouldn't have been a race," Foster said. "I don't appreciate getting bumped, even if it was by my teammate."
Foster was not injured, and Clark received only a bruised shoulder.
"I'm more sorry for Greg and the team, than I am for myself," Clark said. "I didn't realize Greg fell until I got up."
The troubles in the hurdles, however, could not totally overshadow a performance in which Lavonna Martin, in the 100-meter hurdles, and Mike Tully, in the pole vault, set Pan-Am records in leading one-two U.S. sweeps.
Martin, a senior at the University of Tennessee, was timed in 12.81, nipping Stephanie Hightower-Leftwich, the U.S. record-holder, by one-hundredth of a second.
Tully, the Olympic silver medalist, cleared 18-8 3/4 to beat Scott Davis (18-0) of Eugene, Ore.
There was a touch of irony in Tully's victory and that by Duncan Atwood of Seattle in the javelin. Atwood won with a throw of 258-2.
Tully and Atwood were two of the U.S. athletes who left the 1983 Pan American Games after the start of a drug-testing crackdown. Tully, who said he left because personal reasons and not because of the drug testing, returned to win the gold medal.
Two years later, Atwood was suspended for 18 months after testing positive for banned substances. He only returned to competition in the spring.
Other U.S. winners were Floyd Heard of Texas A&M in the 200 (20.25) and Gwen Torrence of the the University of Georgia in the women's 200. Torrence was timed in a wind-aided 22.52 seconds in leading Randy Givens (22.71) of Venice, Calif., in a one-two sweep.
Mexico swept the only other final Saturday. Martin Bermudez (3:58:54) defeated Olympic gold medalist Raul Gonzalez (4:07:27). The two U.S. entrants--Dan O'Connor of Bellmore, N.Y., and Randy Mimm of Colorado Springs, Colo.--were disqualified for bending their knees.