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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS

Barnes Saves Best for Last

Track and field: He makes up for his loss in '88 Games and defeats Godina for shotput gold with 70-11 1/4 effort.

July 27, 1996|RANDY HARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — Poetic justice might not be a concept ordinarily given much consideration by shotputters. Randy Barnes said that it certainly was not on his mind when he stepped into the ring in Centennial Olympic Stadium for his sixth and final throw Friday night.

But anyone who recalled the shotput competition from the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul probably could not help but wonder if Barnes would will a more satisfying conclusion for himself this time.

It was on his last chance eight years ago that Ulf Timmermann, then of East Germany, had the farthest throw of the day, dropping a forlorn Barnes into second place.

In this Olympics, the long face belonged to Barnes' U.S. teammate, world champion John Godina, who could only watch as the 6-foot-4, 319-pound West Virginian celebrated a triumphant final put by leaping into the air several times and running onto the track to almost collide with a women's 5,000-meter runner.

Godina, a former NCAA shotput and discus champion from UCLA who trains in Westwood, had wrested the lead from Italy's Paolo Dal Soglio in the fifth round with a best of 68 feet 2 1/2 inches, then failed to improve in the last round because of a foul.

Three competitors came and went without challenging Godina's mark before it was Barnes' turn. He was in third place after the first three rounds, but he was frustrated on his next two throws and dropped to sixth.

Barnes, who turned 30 in June, said that he told himself to relax and allow his strength to flow into his technique. However he coached himself, it worked. He moved into first with a throw of 70-11 1/4 inches. The two competitors with throws remaining were unable to overcome him, although Ukraine's Alexander Bagach did secure the bronze medal at 68-1.

"I knew Randy would do what he did," said a disappointed Godina, who still has a chance to win a gold in the discus next week. "I knew I was gone."

"I know what John's going through exactly," Barnes said.

But even though Barnes could empathize, it is doubtful he sympathizes. Godina, 24, an outspoken crusader against the use of performance-enhancing drugs, has made it clear in the past that he has little regard for Barnes' world record of 75-10 set in 1990. Later that year, he tested positive for an anabolic steroid and was suspended for two years. That caused him to miss the 1992 Summer Olympics.

"It's been a long road back," said Barnes, whose best throw since he returned was his 73-6 two weeks ago. "This is definitely a pinnacle. It solidifies my career."

The shotput final was the climax of the first day of track and field competition. The only other final was the men's 20-kilometer walk, won by Jefferson Perez to give Ecuador its first Olympic medal. The morning session was watched by a crowd of 80,237, the evening session by 80,511.

For the most part, what they saw were some of the sport's best known athletes trying to qualify for later rounds. Most of them made it, including defending champions Linford Christie of Great Britain and Gail Devers of the United States in their respective 100s, Marie-Jose Perec of France in the 400 and Mike Conley of the United States in the triple jump. Also advancing was men's 400 favorite Michael Johnson.

The only thing particularly dazzling about him was the color of his shoes, gold.

He finished second in his heat in a pedestrian 45.80 seconds to Sri Lanka's Sugath Thilakaratne. There are two more rounds before Monday's final.

"There's no sense in doing anything but to get to the next round," Johnson said. "Running fast this round is not going to give me any special privileges in the next round."

One famous runner who did not advance past the first round was Mary Slaney, who finished seventh in her 5,000 heat in 15:41.30. Slaney, a former world champion at 1,500 and 3,000 meters, still has no medals after three Olympics but said he is not yet ready to quit. She said that she might try to return when she is 42 in 2000 in the 5,000, 10,000 or even the marathon.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

MEDALISTS / Track and Field

MEN'S SHOTPUT

Gold: Randy Barnes, U.S.

Silver: John Godina, U.S.

Bronze: Alexander Bagach, Ukraine

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