The Latin words meaning "swifter, higher, stronger" signal the Olympics are just about here. Forty-one days to be exact, before the 29th Summer Games open in Beijing on Aug. 8. Before they travel to China, some of the greatest athletes in the world will be on display at what will certainly be the best track meet in the United States this year.
The U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials open today in Eugene, Ore., and run through July 6. It was 24 years ago that Los Angeles hosted the track and field trials just before the 1984 Olympics. I had just finished graduate school at USC, and I was fortunate to work as an intern for Track and Field News during the trials and the Olympic Games. And I got to bring along my friends.
Grant Warhurst and I still look back on the men's 100-meter final as one of the greatest ever. No world records, and Carl Lewis' winning time was "only" 10.06. On his way to four gold medals at the Olympics, Lewis probably had his toughest challenge in the trials, running away from Sam Graddy, Ron Brown (who later played in the NFL with the Los Angeles Rams) and Calvin Smith, the world record-holder at the time. Track gurus called it the finest 100-meter field ever. Nobody remembers the others in the race -- Kirk Baptiste, Emmit King, Harvey Glance and Mel Lattany, and the star runners like Steve Riddick, Steve Williams and James Sanford who didn't even qualify for the final. Lewis started his celebration with 10 meters left to go. Running into a headwind, the timing experts at Swiss Timing later estimated his time would have been 9.84 in windless conditions.
Besides Lewis' domination in the 100, 200 and long jump, it was an incredible eight days. Steve Scott, who is now my son Sid's track coach at Cal State San Marcos, kicked a little early in the 1,500 and finished second to Jim Spivey. Greg Foster outran Tonie Campbell and Roger Kingdom in the 110 hurdles.
The great Edwin Moses won the 400 hurdles -- his 89th consecutive finals win. That race was particularly memorable, because of all of the anticipation watching a guy who had won 88 in a row. The L.A. Memorial Coliseum was silent before the gun went off, and you could feel the tension. But Moses left little doubt, easily holding off young Danny Harris.
Dwight Stones set an American record in the high jump, going over at 7-8. In the pole vault, Mike Tully cleared 19 feet to win. I was especially disappointed in Billy Olson, who just a few months prior had battled Sergi Bubka of the Soviet Union at the Times Indoor Games at the Forum. Both vaulters kept going late into the night, each clearing 19 feet, marking the first time that two vaulters had done that at the same indoor meet. I don't remember who eventually won the indoor event, but it left me with high hopes for Olson, who ended up seventh at the Olympic Trials. Even Dave Kenworthy jumped higher.
My Claremont High School classmate Kelly Gordien's brother Marcus finished fifth in the discus, failing to live up to the standards set by their father, former Olympian and world-record holder Fortune Gordien. Kelly was a great high jumper in high school, clearing 7 feet, but never world class.
On the women's side, the sprinters left memories -- Evelyn Ashford, Valerie Brisco-Hooks and Chandra Cheesebrough. The big upset was Mary Decker finishing second in the 1,500 to Ruth Wysocki, a year after Decker swept the 1,500 and 3,000 at the World Championships in Helsinki. She ended up winning the 3,000 at the trials, but went on to greater fame when she clipped heals with Zola Budd in the Olympics and left the race in tears.
The other things I remember about the 1984 event was seeing Wilt Chamberlain walking around the Coliseum as coach of a women's track team (of course he coached women). And a heptathlete from USC named Sharon Hatfield who I knew a little when I was in school there. She didn't do much at the trials, finishing 19th.
When it was all over, the guys from Track and Field News all said "we'll see you in a month." We'd just seen an incredible track meet, but the big one was still ahead.