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Two Friends, 10 Events : Johnson Outlasted Yang 30 Years Ago in Olympic Decathlon

September 06, 1990|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"The rain was really bad, especially the first day. It rained hard for three hours, and when they started to dry the place up, the starting blocks for the 400 were under water. The shot was a terrible event for me and having to put a wet one made it even worse.

"My first put was a foul, then it started raining hard again. The shot was so slippery I had to concentrate on just getting off a fair put, let alone a good one. I was afraid I'd foul on every put if I wasn't careful.

"You know, I took some Taiwan athletes to Rome for an international meet in 1987 and it rained hard then, too. It made me think of that day, of the trouble I had with the shot.

"I figured I had an outside chance to win after nine events . . . until I found out Rafe and I were in the same 1,500 heat. I knew he'd stay right with me, no matter how fast I ran. If we'd been in separate heats, I'd have won the gold medal, not Rafer.

"Rafe and I loved competing against each other. We needed each other, in a way. In one of the practices before the Games in Rome, Rafe's pole broke during a vault and he somersaulted in the air and landed awkwardly, on his back.

"He was OK, but the first thing I thought was: 'Oh, no--I don't want to win this without Rafe in the competition!'

"It was a remarkable time for all three of us. Same school, same coach, different nations. It was a unique relationship, like a father and two sons. And not once did Ducky ever show favoritism to either of us."

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