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U.S. OLYMPIC FESTIVAL : LOS ANGELES--1991 : MEMORABLE MOMENTS : Records by Smith, Ashford No Joking Matter

July 10, 1991|RANDY HARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Swimmer Mark Spitz, in his pre-comeback days as a television commentator, made headlines in 1983 when he called the National Sports Festival a joke. It took less than 21 seconds for Evelyn Ashford and Calvin Smith to prove him wrong.

On a picture-perfect day at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., with the Rocky Mountains as a backdrop, Ashford ran the 100 meters in 10.79 seconds to break the women's world record, only to be upstaged minutes later when Calvin Smith broke the men's 100-meter world record in 9.93.

"Somebody call Mark Spitz, will you?" said Dr. Evie Dennis, a U.S. Olympic Committee officer.

Ashford was particularly pleased to have taken the record (10.81) from her East German rival, Marlies Gohr, who had beaten her the week before in a dual meet at the Coliseum. When Ashford learned her time, she ran a victory lap and then collapsed, falling flat on her back and staring at the clear, blue sky.

"I was stunned," she said. "That's all I can say."

One year later, the anticipated rematch between Ashford and Gohr at the 1984 Summer Olympics failed to materialize because of an East German boycott. But they met again a few weeks after the Olympics at an invitational meet in Zurich, Switzerland, where Ashford not only won but broke her world record in 10.76. That record stood until 1988, when Florence Griffith Joyner ran 10.49.

Smith's performance in Colorado Springs was even more remarkable because it broke track and field's oldest existing record, the 9.95 seconds run by Jim Hines during the 1968 Summer Olympics at Mexico City. One thing the Hines, Smith and Ashford records had in common is that they were set at high altitude, where thin air is considered conducive to fast times in the sprints.

The United States' premier sprinter at the time, Carl Lewis, withdrew from the 1983 Festival in a pique because one of his Santa Monica Track Club teammates was not selected for a relay. Smith did not miss him.

"Carl Lewis isn't the only good sprinter," he said.

The record remained with Smith until 1987, when Canadian Ben Johnson ran 9.83 at the World Championships in Rome. One year later, Johnson ran a 9.79 at the Summer Olympics in Seoul. Both records were expunged by the International Amateur Athletic Federation because of his use of performance-enhancing drugs.

Carl Lewis' 9.92 from Seoul stood as the record until last month, when Leroy Burrell ran a 9.90.

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