Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | TRACK AND FIELD

NO Leg to Stand On

U.S. Takes 3 Relay Golds, but 1 Very Notable Silver

August 04, 1996|JULIE CART | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — You know how men can be, so catty and difficult to get along with in a group. So prone to petty jealousies that can damage the fabric of a team.

The soap opera that engulfed the U.S. sprinters--Will Carl Lewis run? Is Leroy Burrell faking his injury?--led to a silver medal in the 400-meter relay, the first time an American men's team has lost an Olympic race it has finished.

In contrast to their compatriots, the Bickersons, the women's 400 relay was conducted in a collegial atmosphere that led to a U.S. gold medal.

Four exciting relays highlighted the last night of track and field, and the performance of American teams prevailed over the efforts of American individuals as the largest crowd yet, 83,313, filled Centennial Olympic Stadium.

The crowd was especially receptive to the relays, which the Americans have traditionally dominated.

The women's 400 went first. Chryste Gaines led off and handed the baton to Gail Devers, the gold medalist at 100 meters here and a rare member of a relay team. Devers had taped her ultra-long fingernails out of consideration to her relay teammates, fearing that in the baton exchange she might slash someone.

With her nails a white blur, Devers flashed down the back straight, giving the United States a clear lead.

She handed off to Inger Miller of USC, at 24 the youngest member of the team. Devers had to stretch to get the baton to Miller, who, in her eagerness, took off a little soon.

Miller ran well on the curve and gave anchor runner Gwen Torrance room to work with, as she raced the likes of Jamaica's Merlene Ottey, Russia's Irina Privalova and double gold medalist Marie-Jose Perec of France.

Torrance was brought along by the roar of her hometown crowd and only Pauline Davis of the Bahamas was close to her.

The United States won in 41.95 seconds, the Bahamas was second in 42.14, and Jamaica was third in 42.24.

Among the women's teams, all was sweetness and light. The American and Bahamian teams embraced after the race like old friends, which they are.

Davis and others on the Bahamian team train with Torrence in Atlanta.

"Gwen is one of my dearest friends," Davis said. "She knows all of us very well. We treat her like a Bahamian. We're all happy for each other."

The U.S. women all affirmed the correctness of the relay rules that require members to attend a pre-Olympic training camp, not only to drill on handoffs but to display a commitment to the relay.

"We are together as a team," Torrence said. "We are as one. It's a joint effort, a time to put aside your individual ego. It's the most fun."

The silver was the first track medal for the Bahamas. For Ottey, who had already won silver medals in both the 100 and 200, the bronze in the relay brought her Olympic total to seven, equaling the women's record.

After their race, the American women stayed on the track to watch the men, and offer what support they could. More was needed.

The American men's and women's 1,600-meter relay teams won thrilling races, the men holding off Britain in 2:55.99 and the women defeating Nigeria in 3:20.91. The winning runners followed the Atlanta tradition of carrying their young children for the victory lap and wrapping American flags around their shoulders.

The appreciative crowd continued to lavish applause at every action, no matter the nationality of the athlete. More nations have won track and field medals than ever before in Olympic history.

The fans cheered a Greek high jumper, a 5,000-meter runner from Burundi, a Finnish javelin thrower and Russian and Algerian 1,500-meter runners with equal zeal.

The Greek was 28-year-old Niki Bakogianni, who surprised everyone with a personal best, a national record and a silver medal. Her jump was 6 feet 8 inches. The event marked the first time three women jumped over 6-7 in the same competition.

The gold was won by Stefka Kostadinova of Bulgaria. It was a long time coming for Kostadinova, who has held the world record for nine years and won two outdoor and four indoor world championship titles but never before an Olympic medal.

Her winning jump, 6-8 3/4, was an Olympic record but she missed three attempts at 6-10 3/4, which would have been a world record.

The man from tiny Burundi, 22-year-old Venuste Niyongabo, prevailed in a tactical race in which, again, three Kenyan runners took turns throwing themselves at the lead. Bob Kennedy of Indianapolis, the fastest non-African ever to run the event, was in the fray for about 2,500 meters but was overtaken.

Niyongabo won in 13:07.96. Kennedy was sixth.

The Finnish javelin thrower was Seppo Raty, a former world-record holder who challenged current world-record holder Jan Zelezny of the Czech Republic. Zelezny won with a throw of 289 feet 3 inches. Raty won the bronze.

The Russian 1,500-meter runner was Svetlana Masterkova, who had already won the 800 gold medal. After winning the 800, she had run wind sprints around the track and was equally peppy Saturday night.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|