YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


Platinum and Gold Are His Only Goals

February 15, 1996|JIM MURRAY

Being dubbed "the world's fastest human" has a nice ring to it. It's not something you get voted to by some panel of sportswriters, or fan poll or any other selection device. Only the clock gets the vote.

The 100-yard-dash, along with its modern Olympic equivalent, 100 meters, is as American as a pie-eating contest. Of the 22 Olympics we've participated in, Yanks have won the dash 15 times. We've lost the 400-meter relay only three times.

The catch-phrase "world's fastest human" was thought up--where else?--in Hollywood. But it wasn't extravagantly given. It was fastened onto Charley Paddock, the USC sprinter when, in 1921, he ran the 110-yard sprint in 10.2. Since this distance is some two feet longer than 100 meters and the 100-meter record was 10.2 until 1956, a case could be made that Paddock was 45 years ahead of his time. And the Hollywood-style hyperbole not that extravagant.

The sobriquet was more or less shelved for 15 years thereafter--until Jesse Owens burst on the scene in the Berlin Olympics of 1936. Owens already held the world record (10.2) for the hundred meters when he ran his Olympic 100 in 10.3, tying an Olympic record.

The title went back into mothballs as Owen's successors were a more lackluster lot--a hurdler who missed the boat in his own specialty (Bones Dillard) won in the '48 Olympics, a guy who wasn't even the best sprinter on his college team won in another Olympics (1952). Then there was a 10.5 victory at Melbourne in 1956 and a German more noted for his rolling starts than speed down the track won in 1960. It was not till Bob Hayes came along in 1964 that the "world's fastest" was dusted off again.

But, then, along came Carl Lewis to practically retire the title for all time. He set the Olympic record of 9.92 and the world mark of 9.86, sometimes while saving himself for the long jump.

Americans have always loved the flash and dash of the hundred. Those races where a guy runs around for hours like a guy mowing a lawn don't command much attention here. Americans are in too much of a hurry to wait out the 10,000 meters. If they want to watch guys jogging, they'll go to Central Park.

But what has become of our "world's fastest humans"? We've lost three of the last five Olympics--once to a Ukranian, once to a Trinidadian and, in 1992, to a Briton. Have burgers, fried chicken and pizza-with-everything finally taken their toll?

I took the problem to the source the other afternoon. Jon Drummond, who is getting ready for the Atlanta Olympics this summer and who will be in the chocks for the indoor 50-meter dash at the Los Angeles Invitational track meet at the Sports Arena on Feb. 24, may be our best hope for a return to the glory days of Paddock, Owens, Hayes and Lewis.

Drummond is in a dawn-to-dusk training program with UCLA's sprint coach, an ex-Olympian himself, John Smith. But Jon has other coaches on his team--Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The son of a minister, Drummond turns to the Bible for his best advice, not only on how to run but how to live. "I have a skill enhancement in my body no drug test can ever trace or detect--the grace of Jesus Christ," he tells you. When you've got that, who needs steroids?

A Gospel singer when he is not on a track, Drummond has made a platinum-selling album with the Kirk Franklin and Family singers. But his motivation is not platinum on MTV, it's a gold on a winner's platform at the Atlanta Olympics. The song he wants to sing along with is the Star Spangled Banner as the first-place flag rises.

"Ever since I watched the '76 Olympics on television, it's been my goal to be in the Games. I didn't care whether it was in Judo or on horseback or with a sword, I wanted to be part of the Olympics."

He will get his wish--not armed with an epee or javelin or vaulting pole, but on foot. All he needs are spikes.

If Drummond is not exactly the world's fastest human, he's one of them. His best time, 9.99, would have been only three-hundredths of a second off winning at the last Olympics. And at a meet in England last year, he came within a lunge of beating the defending Olympic champion, Linford Christie. He beat Lewis, the world-record holder. His confidence was further buoyed when he ran a leg of a world-record tying performance (37.40) in the 400-relay at the world championships at Stuttgart.

The public notion of a sprinter is, he's a guy who rolls out of bed with the ability to run the hundred in 9-something. It's just something he was born with, like brown eyes or long legs and he doesn't have to do anything about it. "I get mad when guys say, 'Oh, you don't have a job. You just go out there and run. It's easy for you,' " Drummond says. "Well, how'd they like to go to work six days a week--and sometimes Sunday? Go home when every bone in your body feels like it's stepped on? Feel as if you're getting your breath by slow mail?"

Los Angeles Times Articles