Tuesday, September 21
How low can Loroupe go?
 
By Jeff Hollobaugh
Special to ESPN.com

 Tegla Loroupe may have only won the bronze medal in the 10,000 at the World Championships, but that was just a warm-up. Her real plan is to be the first woman to break 2 hours and 20 minutes in the marathon, and she will be attempting that feat next weekend in Berlin.

Tegla Loroupe
Tegla Loroupe broke the 13-year-old marathon mark at Rotterdam in 1998.
The diminutive Kenyan, already the holder of the world best at 2:20:47, endured controversy after that 1998 race because she had been paced by male runners for part of the distance.

However, since 99 percent of all women's marathons are run in such conditions, that would seem to be within the natural parameters of the event.

Sotomayor a victim?
The Cubans avoided a showdown with the IAAF at the World Championships when they claimed an injury for Javier Sotomayor. Earlier in the season at the Pan-Am Games, the high jump star was nailed for a positive cocaine test, which the Cubans say was fixed.

Now, however, Olympic hero Alberto Juantorena, head of the Cuban track federation, has penned a letter to the IAAF insisting once again that Soto was framed, and noting that the Cubans will fight the charges.

Dvorak wins again
World champion and world record-holder Tomas Dvorak of the Czech Republic won the Decastar decathlon in Talence, France, last week. He didn't have his usual margin of comfort, however, in a competition that went down to the wire.

In scoring 8,690 points, Dvorak finished just 26 points ahead of Estonia's Erki Nool (8,664). That boils down to about a four-second difference in the final event, the 1,500.

France's world champion Eunice Barber won the women's heptathlon in 6,514. American DeDee Nathan finished fourth in 6,317.

The greatest run of the century?
In further evidence that track statistics have nothing to do with math, Dr. Howard Grubb, a statistics professor from England's Reading University, has released his findings that Wang Junxia's world record of 29:31.78 in the 10,000 is the best of all the world records, while Maurice Greene's 9.79 in the 100 meters is one of the weakest.

He acknowledged that some might beg to differ on the grounds that weather, among other factors, can influence performances in track and field. He didn't say what effect racing in mysterious circumstances in China might have.

Ranking the century
No. 90 -- Bislett Men's 1,500, Oslo 1981: It was the summer of the mile, and the British ruled. Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett lorded over the world's 1,500-meter men and spent much of the summer ducking each other. With Coe absent, Ovett, who had set a mile world record at Bislett the previous year, figured to win easily.

On the first lap, American Tom Byers, who had been asked to supply a fast pace, broke away from the pack with a steady surge. Ovett and company decided the one-time wunderkind was going too fast, so they weren't going to go with him. At 400 meters, the pack heard a 57.6-second split, with Byers more than 10 meters ahead. Then at 800, they heard a split of 1:54.9, and Byers was an astounding 40 meters-plus ahead. He was out of his mind, they figured.

When the pack hit 1,200 and heard 2:53.0, they collectively realized that they must have been hearing Byers' splits all along, since no one could be 60 meters ahead of a 2:53.0. The chase began. Ovett ripped through his last lap (52.3) in full panic mode. He had cut Byers' lead in half by the time he hit the home stretch. Byers grimly held on, his leaden legs clocking 61.5 for his last circuit. He hit the line in 3:39.01, just ahead of Ovett's 3:39.53, becoming the third man in four years to defeat the Brit in his main event. "I don't think they'd let it happen again," said Byers.

Quipped Ovett, "We ran like a load of hacks."

No. 89 -- Olympic Men's Shot, Amsterdam 1928: Though Kansan John Kuck had thrown a world record 51 feet- ½ inch early in the year, the big favorite for Olympic gold was Emil Hirschfeld of Germany, who had popped a 51-9.75 a week later.

In Amsterdam, Hirschfeld, obviously in top form, launched the iron ball out to 51-7, but couldn't match the 51-8 thrown earlier by Kuck's teammate, Herman Brix. Then Kuck, who had only been third in the Olympic Trials, surprised everyone in the final rounds with a world record 52-0.75 to steal the gold.

After the Games, Hirschfeld boosted his self-esteem with a binge of three world records, topped by a 52-7.5, but Kuck would always have the gold. Brix, meanwhile, changed his name to Bruce Bennett and went on to play Tarzan in several movies.

No. 88 -- World Championships Men's 4-x-400 Relay, Athens 1997: The 4-x-4 may be a traditionally strong American event, but in Athens all bets were off. Michael Johnson and Butch Reynolds couldn't run because of injury. That left Antonio Pettigrew as the sole veteran on the squad, and he was still taking the rap for the loss to the British in 1991.

Meanwhile, the British lined up their silver medal squad from Atlanta, and the Jamaicans put forth a dangerous team as well. U.S. lead-off Jerome Young clocked a 44.6 and handed off just behind the Jamaicans. Then Pettigrew set about redeeming his reputation. He ran the best lap of his great career, giving the U.S. an eight-meter lead with his 43.1, the second-fastest relay leg in history.

Third leg Chris Jones was passed by the British during his 44.8 circuit, but came back to hand off to anchor Tyree Washington with a four-meter lead. Washington maintained that lead until the home stretch, when Britain's Mark Richardson came even. Then Washington fought back, handing the United States the gold in 2:56.47, with the Brits a stride behind in 2:56.65. The Jamaicans, just a tenth back, produced a national record 2:56.75.

No. 87 -- Olympic Men's High Jump, Atlanta 1996: When Charles Austin missed his second attempt at 7-9.25, he faced a dilemma. Poland's Artur Partyka had made that height on his second try. That meant that the Pole had the lead, and all Austin could be assured of was silver.

Austin could have chosen to jump at 7-9.25 a third time. That would be his best chance to earn three more jumps at the next height. Or, he could pass to an Olympic record 7-10, where he would have only one chance to win the gold.

Austin passed, as did Britain's Steve Smith, in third place. At 7-10, Partyka missed. Then, with the running events concluded and a crowded stadium chanting only for him, Austin produced the perfect jump, sailing over to claim the first U.S. win in the event since 1968. After Partyka and Smith exhausted their remaining efforts, Austin celebrated with three unsuccessful tries for a world record 8-0.75.

No. 86 -- World Championships Women's Javelin, Helsinki 1983: The very first of the IAAF's World Championships meant a lot to the Finns, since they were the host nation. Not surprisingly, the best of Finnish athletes faced tremendous pressure to win the gold.

Such was Tiina Lillak's lot. The world record-holder at 245-3, Lillak had been labelled a "choker" after failing to win a medal at the previous summer's European champs. Here, she put herself into medal position with a first round 220-11, but the wind didn't favor long throws, and Britain's Fatima Whitbread had a big lead with her 226-10.

Then hurdler Arto Bryggare won a silver medal for Finland. On his celebration lap, he and Lillak shared an emotional hug, then she approached the runway inspired to launch the spear to victory. It landed at 221-4, an improvement, but not even close to gold. That left her only one throw. When Whitbread passed her last attempt, Lillak responded to the crowd's cheers and threw the javelin far, very far. It hit 232-4, and Finland finally had its gold medal.

No. 85 -- Olympic Men's 10,000, Munich 1972: The longest track race generated great excitement in the qualifying heats (the first since 1920). All 15 qualifiers to the final bettered Billy Mills' Olympic record of 28:24.4, led by Belgian Emiel Puttemans (27:53.4) and Britain's Dave Bedford (27:53.6).

All eyes focused on Bedford, a great talent who had earned the label "unpredictable." Sure enough, he took the race out at an unheard-of pace, hitting 4:15 at the mile. The long pack, all running at a world-record clip, stayed with him. Then, approaching the halfway mark, Finland's Lasse Viren inadvertently caused a collision. He went down, with Tunisian veteran Mohamed Gamoudi tumbling over him onto the infield.

Viren sat dazed for a few seconds, then jumped to his feet and started chasing the pack. Gamoudi came up more slowly, and ran a lap and a half before dropping out. In the final kilometer, only five remained in the running. A lap later, Viren moved to the front with a dazzling burst, dropping American hope Frank Shorter as Puttemans and Ethiopia's Miruts Yifter gave chase.

No one, however, expected Viren to summon a 1:56.4 for the last two laps, a finishing drive unheard of in 10,000-meter running back then. He crossed the line in 27:38.35, breaking Ron Clarke's 1965 world record and giving Finland its first gold since 1936.

No. 84 -- AAU Men's 1,500, Milwaukee 1934: Princeton's Bill Bonthron and mile legend Glenn Cunningham shared a fierce rivalry in 1934. That spring, 25,000 fans watched as Cunningham demolished Bonthron on his home track at the Princeton Invitational, winning in a world record 4:06.7. Bonthron came back at the NCAA Champs and beat Cunningham with a 4:08.9.

Then came the U.S. national championships. After a fast 61.3 opener in the 100-degree heat, Cunningham moved hard on the second lap, hitting the halfway point in an unprecedented 2:01.8. Bonthron couldn't hang with that pace, and was 11 yards back as the two neared the three-quarter mark. Cunningham clocked 3:04.5 there and continued to pull away. By the final turn, he had 15 yards on his rival.

Then Bonthron entered the homestretch and exploded into a furious sprint, which some called his "bicycle" finish. He ran down Cunningham in stunning fashion, passing him 20 yards from the tape. A stride before the finish, Bothron glanced back as if to confirm his victory. He won in 3:48.8, .1 ahead of Cunningham, as both broke the world record.

Said Cunningham, "It's a strange feeling to break a world record and lose." Bonthron, exhausted by his effort, collapsed and never made it to the victory stand.

No. 83 -- Olympic Women's 100, Berlin 1936: Helen Stephens came to the Berlin Olympics as a sprinter who had never been beaten in the 100. The six-foot tall Missouri farm girl had started her career when her high school gym teacher had clocked her in a world record for the 50-yard dash during a fitness test. In her first official race, she tied the world indoor record for 50 yards and beat Stella Walsh, the Olympic champion.

In Berlin she faced Polish star Walsh (originally Stanislawa Walesiewicz), whom she had earlier beaten to win the U.S. title. Though Stephens had clocked a 10.8 for 100 yards (the world record was 11.0), the German crowd was stunned when she crushed Walsh in a wind-aided 11.5 for 100 meters.

Stephens later turned pro, racing against Jesse Owens and also playing with two women's pro basketball teams. Walsh, tragically, was murdered in 1980 and an autopsy revealed that she was a hermaphrodite, leading to controversy about the legitimacy of her many medals and records.

No. 82 -- Olympic Women's 100, Atlanta 1996: In an event that has seen more than its share of controversies over close finishes, this was a doozy. Not surprisingly, the usual suspects were involved.

American Gail Devers started in lane two, with Jamaican rival Merlene Ottey in lane three. The compact Devers nailed the best start, however, and her teammate, Gwen Torrence, also had an early lead on Ottey. However, by mid-race, Ottey's long legs pulled even. The three stars raced to the finish, with Torrence slipping into third -- just barely -- while to many eyes, Devers and Ottey hit the line dead-even.

A careful study of the finish photo revealed that Devers' left shoulder hit the line about a centimeter before Ottey's chest, giving her a margin of .004 of a second. The times: Devers 10.94, Ottey 10.94, Torrence 10.96. Ottey, who had lost a similar close finish to Devers at the 1993 Worlds, refused to accept the verdict. She would end her fabulous career without ever having won an individual Olympic gold.

No. 81 -- Olympic Men's 100, London 1948: The story of this race begins with the high hurdles event at the U.S. championships. Harrison "Bones" Dillard had won 82 straight races in the highs when Bill Porter upset him to win the national title. At the Olympic Trials, Dillard was determined to avenge that loss, but when he hit the second hurdle, he started to press too hard. He hit three more barriers hard before stopping to watch Porter win the race en route to an Olympic gold medal.

The day before, however, Dillard had run in the 100-meter final, finishing third to make the Olympic team. He didn't have much of a shot to win a medal in the sprint, but it was the only shot he had.

Once in London, Dillard performed well, even if he was in the wrong race. In the first two rounds, he had produced the fastest times (10.4s). Still, in the final, all eyes focused on his teammates, Barney Ewell and Mel Patton, along with Panama's Lloyd LaBeach. Patton got a poor start on the wet cinder track, with Dillard getting the best. He led the whole way, and streaked across the line in an Olympic-record 10.3.

On the other side of the track, Ewell finished second in 10.4 and, mistakenly thinking he had won, broke into a celebratory dance. Autotimes for the race showed the first four finished in a space of 0.11 seconds. Four years later, in Helsinki, Dillard finally won his gold medal in the hurdles.

Jeff Hollobaugh, former managing editor of Track and Field News, is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached by e-mail at michtrack@aol.com.