They kept a lane open for Gail Devers until shortly before the women's 50 meters Saturday night in the Sunkist Invitational at the Sports Arena.
But America's No. 1 female track star of 1993, as she promised, was a no show. In her absence, Russia's Irina Privalova won easily, breaking the meet record with a time of 6.08 seconds.
Although Devers signed a contract worth $9,000 plus perks, her handlers, including Coach Bob Kersee, had her withdraw when meet promoter Al Franken would not pay her more money.
There was a major disagreement between Kersee and Franken on why Devers was withdrawn. Franken contended that Devers' handlers tried a strong-arm move. Kersee claimed Franken did not show good faith. That he signed Devers under false pretenses, telling him that Privalova was not competing.
Despite the breach of the contract that Devers' handlers sent and Franken signed, the veteran track promoter said he would not sue.
"That's just not my style," he said. "Gail wanted to compete, they wouldn't let her. I do plan on filing a protest with the IAAF and hope they will follow up on it.
"It was a strong-arm attempt. They picked the wrong time to try those tactics. They live out here and they know about the earthquake. There was no way we could pay them more money. It was a shabby thing to do.
"I didn't know until Wednesday that Privalova was going to compete. But I never said that she wouldn't.
"It would seem to me that anyone who really cares about track would have wanted to see the two great sprinters run. A matter of money should not have kept the fans from seeing a great match. After all, Irina broke Gail's record."
Kersee didn't see it that way.
"We agreed to take minimum money to help the meet for both Gail and Jackie (Joyner-Kersee, his wife whom he also coaches)," he said. "But we took minor league money because we were facing minor league competition.
"When Irina was signed, that made it major league, and I'm not letting my girls face major opposition for minor league money.
"Gail was upset because she wanted to run, but I told her no Olympic champion that I coach would compete in a major race for minor league money.
"I was doing Al Franken a favor. I won't do that again."
Privalova, who has run a 6.01 this year to beat the world record, acknowledged that she was disappointed.
"I would have run better if Devers had been here," she said. "The tougher the opposition, the more prepared I am to run. I was looking forward to racing against her. She is very good.
"I feel we could have come close to the world record. But I really wasn't ready for my best race."
A year ago, in winning the Sunkist 50, Devers set a U.S. record of 6.10. In the nine times Privalova and Devers have faced each other, Devers has won seven.
But earlier this year, Privalova ran 6.03 and 6.01. Maybe Devers couldn't have beaten her anyhow.