Studying Owens and the other greats on film, scanning their blurred bodies frame by frame, matching action against biomechanical principles, Tellez began to see how a race should be run. A lot of what he learned went against the grain. It was always assumed that you should start a race with your eyes on the finish line, but Tellez decided you should have your head aimed downward, as though to pitch face first onto the track. Unconventional and uncomfortable, yes, but it forces the rest of your body into the proper position for takeoff. From start to finish, he identified the other elements of mechanical perfection: a straight spine, head in alignment, an even backswing with the arms, long leg strides, knees bent at a natural point in the upswing and so on.
It seemed logical that a runner with good mechanics would be a faster runner. Armed with this theory, Tellez left an assistant's job at UCLA in 1976 for the head job at the University of Houston. There, the theory did produce all-conference runners out of typical student athletes. Then, three years later, along came the atypical and preternatural Lewis. Could Tellez turn a star into a superstar? Indeed he could. "Watching Carl get better and better was truly gratifying," he says. "I'd tell him about parabolic curves and acceleration curves, all the information I had, and he'd put it into action." Every time Lewis stepped onto the track, the science of running came stupendously to life.
Up until the Lewis era, the 10-second 100 had seemed virtually unattainable, except for a freakish 9.95 run by Jim Hines at the 1968 Olympics. In the past decade, however, Lewis, Burrell and Marsh, as well as two runners who don't train with Tellez but who belong to the same school of scientific thought, Calvin Smith and Dennis Mitchell, have shattered the barrier numerous times.
As word has spread, one potential Olympian after another--not only sprinters, but hurdlers, long jumpers, high jumpers, vaulters, javelin throwers and decathletes who understand that their performances depend in large measure on how well they can take advantage of the laws of motion--have arrived with their bags at Tellez's sweaty, Spartan quarters in the Jeppesen Fieldhouse, an old piece of flat architecture splotched throughout with Texas red. Tellez accepts some of the athletes and turns the others away. His criteria have less to do with their stat sheets than with their work ethic and their willingness to take criticism on the chin. And if they qualify, Tellez's expertise is offered essentially gratis. The Santa Moncia Track Club, for instance, pays his expenses when he accompanies the sprinters to meets, but it is the university job, not coaching Olympians, that butters Tellez's bread.
Marsh and Burrell return to the blocks and, in tandem, run again. This time their movements seem at once more deliberate and more rhythmic.
"OK, that's a little better," Tellez says, a high compliment, and the two take a break.
Burrell, who is 25, grew up in the Delaware Valley not far from the scene of Lewis' schoolboy exploits, and he knew early on he wanted the same college coach as Lewis. In 1985, he arrived in Houston as a freshman and has been training with Tellez since. "The rah-rah coaches are fun, but you are basically on your own. Coach T is the opposite. He never fails to tell you what you're doing wrong," Burrell says, flopping down on the grass. "Some coaches are afraid to hurt your feelings. Not Coach T. He doesn't hesitate."
Marsh, also 25 but a relative newcomer in Houston, goes over to scold two hurdlers, a man and woman, who are engaged in mock wrestling on the infield. "Hey, cut that out," he warns. "Somebody's going to get hurt." Tellez glances over, and the couple, flirting a bit as they go, head back to the track. On orders from Tellez, there is not supposed to be any horseplay that might result in injury.