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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | Track and Field

World Beaters

Men's 100: Bailey blazes to world record of 9.84 after Christie is disqualified.

July 28, 1996|JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — When Canadian sprinter Donovan Bailey sought advice this week on how to handle the pressure of the Olympic Games, he turned to an expert on the subject, his infamous countryman Ben Johnson.

It is not known what transpired during the long-distance phone conversation between Bailey and Johnson, who had the Olympic gold medal and 100-meter world record stripped from him after testing positive for anabolic steroids at the 1988 Seoul Olympics.

It must have been a hell of a pep talk.

Bailey did Johnson one better Saturday night at Centennial Olympic Stadium. Bailey won the gold medal in the 100 and set a world record, and he did so without the baggage of drug allegations. There were enough controversies in the race without that.

Bailey's time of 9.84 surpassed Leroy Burrell's record of 9.85, set July 6, 1994, at Lausanne, Switzerland.

Frankie Fredericks of Namibia won the silver in 9.89 and Ato Boldon of Trinidad and Tobago and UCLA won the bronze in 9.90.

Dennis Mitchell of the United States was fourth in 9.99. It is the first time since 1976, and only the third time ever, that an American man failed to win a medal at 100 meters, excluding the 1980 U.S. boycott.

Despite the echoes of Seoul, Bailey went to great pains to distance himself from Johnson, who, like Bailey and 1992 winner Linford Christie of Britain, is a Jamaican-born Canadian.

"I'm not trying to do what Ben did or undo what Ben did," Bailey said. "I think no matter what happens in history, it's such a huge story that it's never going to go away. I'll always be asked about it."

Bailey's world record was the reward at the end of a final that began with an amazing sight--the defending Olympic 100-meter champion false-starting twice and being disqualified.

Christie, 36, became the only gold-medal sprinter to be beaten at the starting line and not the finish line.

Christie clearly jumped on the first start, not an uncommon situation that is treated by the sprinters as no more than a nuisance.

After the requisite thigh slapping and staring down the track, the runners were again called to their marks. This time it was Boldon, the best starter in the field, who jumped. The callback gun came late and, like most sprinters, Boldon claimed he was falsely accused.

This time it took the runners longer to collect themselves and reassemble. They settled in for a third time and awaited the gun. All except Christie, who anticipated it. He bolted down Lane 2 without pause--with the apparent idea that if he acted as if he hadn't heard the recall gun, they might let him continue.

He looked incredulous when the false start was charged to him. The formalities began. Christie was informed that the second false start meant he was disqualified. He looked away. Christie was asked to leave the track. He refused. It was not until meet referee John Chaplin come onto the track and showed Christie a red disqualification card. This time Christie left when asked.

The seven remaining men for the fourth time took their marks, and a stillness fell in the stadium filled with 81,742, a silence only a 100-meter Olympic final can command.

Fredericks got out fast, but Boldon held the lead through 50 meters and looked to be running with great efficiency. It's a crucial period in the race where the sprinters have achieved maximum acceleration and try to maintain it.

To do so requires a sprinter to perform one of sport's great oxymorons--completely relax while racing full out. Carl Lewis was such a sprinter, famous for his slow start and roaring finish.

Bailey is the same. Where Ben Johnson bullied his way through the race on pure aggression, Bailey slides down the track smoothly with a long stride and a surprisingly light foot-fall.

The Canadian accelerated as his competitors were decelerating--although coaches prefer to say that true acceleration is not likely so late in a race and in reality a sprinter is maintaining his top speed relative to others.

"The whole idea of this race was for me to relax," Bailey said. Bailey prevailed while Boldon was tying up--he blamed the false starts and his inexperience for his third-place finish--and Fredericks was coming on but not enough.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

The False-Start Story

THE RULE: On any race out of starting blocks, after the official shoots the gun, if a runner leaves the blocks in less than one-tenth of a second, the starter hears a beep in his earphones. He then calls the field back and determines who started early by reading a printout of a timing device.

THE BACKGROUND: Britain's Linford Christie, who was disqualified from Saturday's 100-meter men's final, was a leader in the move to take the false-start decision out of the hands of officials. Christie protested a start by Dennis Mitchell of the United States at the 1991 World Championships that officials deemed too close to call.

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