At a time when the United States dominated track and field, the nation's Olympic trials were considered by some as the world's best meet, even more competitive than the Olympics.
Today, long after the rest of the world has caught or passed the United States in many events, the U.S. trials still represent the world's best meet from 400 meters down. That is particularly true in the men's competition, although the U.S. women sprinters no longer bow to anyone, not even the East Germans.
The U.S. trials are as unsympathetic as any other event in sports. Even if you are a two-time world champion, such as Greg Foster, your credentials will not earn you a place on the Olympic team.
Foster, a high hurdler, broke his arm 11 days ago, but like most of the other competitors here, he will not qualify to go to Seoul, Korea, unless he finishes among the top three in his event. The only exceptions are those athletes who are named to relay teams.
The United States may have the only track and field team in the world that leaves potential medalists at home. East German and Soviet officials select their teams. But in the United States, only the strongest--and the fastest--survive.
Echoing the sentiments of many athletes, high hurdler Tonie Campbell, who finished fifth in the 1984 Games, said, "I think there's more pressure at the trials than at the Olympics."
The trials begin today on the Indiana University/Purdue University at Indianapolis campus. There is one final tonight, the men's shotput. But before the end of the weekend, the Olympic team will also be determined in nine other events--the men's 100, 400-meter intermediate hurdles, high jump, triple jump, javelin throw and 20-kilometer walk, and the women's 100, 3,000 and heptathlon. The trials continue through July 23.
As usual, the United States has more sprinters than it has places on the Olympic team. Of the world's 10 fastest men this year in the 100, 8 are Americans. Of the world's 10 fastest men in the 200, 9 are Americans.
Carl Lewis remains the best of the best in both events. Although he may not run the 200 in the Olympics because of a scheduling conflict, he will compete in both short sprints at the trials along with the long jump.
After Lewis, there are a number of sprinters who could contend for medals in Seoul. The University of Houston's Joe DeLoach and the University of Florida's Dennis Mitchell have the world's fastest times this year in the 100 (10.03). DeLoach also has the second-fastest time in the 200 (19.98) behind Mississippi State's Lorenzo Daniel (19.87).
Daniel has been bothered by a pulled leg muscle that will prevent him from competing in the 100, but his coach said this week that the sprinter is 90% recovered and could challenge Lewis and 1987 world champion Calvin Smith in the 200.
Two other prominent 100 runners, 1987 national champion Mark Witherspoon and Brian Cooper, also are less than 100% because of leg injuries.
In the 400, UCLA's Danny Everett has emerged as the favorite. His 44.34 is the fastest time in the world this year at sea level. His teammate, freshman Steve Lewis, has the second-fastest time at sea level (44.65).
Among the veterans, Roddie Haley, formerly of the University of Arkansas, appears to be the most fit. Six weeks ago, Butch Reynolds could have been considered an Olympic medal favorite. But he pulled his hamstring in a June workout and has competed only once since, winning a race in Indianapolis two weeks ago in a disappointing 45.93. In an interview this week, he did not sound confident that he will make the team.
Could it be that two-time Olympic champion Edwin Moses will not make the U.S. team?
No one who values his money should bet against Moses, but, for the first time in his career, there are three other 400-meter intermediate hurdlers in the United States to challenge him.
The leading contender could be UCLA's Kevin Young, whose 47.85 is the world's fastest time. Moses' 48.27 is second. The question is whether the relatively inexperienced Young can handle three rounds of trials pressure.
Danny Harris of Perris, Calif., who, in 1984, was younger than Young is now, won the silver medal at the Olympics. He has run 48.56 this year, fourth-fastest in the world. The other contender is Andre Phillips, formerly of UCLA. He appeared to be in excellent shape early this year, but he since has dropped out of sight. Sources in San Jose, where Phillips trains, say he looks good.
Even before Foster broke his arm, 1984 Olympic champion Roger Kingdom was favored in the 110-meter high hurdles. Kingdom, whose 13.15 is the world's fastest time, is unbeaten in seven races this year.
Foster plans to compete with a light cast on his arm. But if he is not a factor, the University of Florida's Arthur Blake, 1987 Mobil Grand Prix champion Tonie Campbell of Irvine and Cletus Clark, formerly of the University of Houston, should contend. Campbell said last week he believes Renaldo Nehemiah, who has not come close to regaining his world-record form since returning to track from professional football last year, is ready to challenge.
Middle Distances, Distances
Steve Scott and Joe Falcon, the NCAA champion from the University of Arkansas, have decided to run the 1,500, leaving the 5,000 to Sydney Maree. U.S. coaches might prefer for Scott and Falcon to reconsider because the Olympic 1,500 field, loaded with Morocco's Said Aouita, Somalia's Abdi Bile, Great Britain's Steve Cram and Sebastian Coe and East Germany's Jens-Peter Herold, is much stronger than the 5,000 field.
Jim Spivey, third in the 1,500 at the 1987 world championships, appears recovered from early-season injuries.
Henry Marsh will attempt to make his fourth Olympic team in the steeplechase.
Marsh is a novice compared to John Powell, who will attempt to make his fifth Olympic team in the discus. Second in the world championships last year at age 40, Powell could do it. His 210-0 is the fourth-best throw by an American this year. Mac Wilkins, attempting to make his fourth Olympic team at age 37, has the second-best throw (222-11) by an American.
A knee injury will prevent John Brenner, formerly of UCLA, from competing in the shotput. He was third at last year's world championships. But Randy Barnes, who left Texas A&M; this year to train for the Olympics, has the second-best throw in the world this year at 72-6 1/2.
An injury may also keep the United States' most consistent pole vaulter, Mike Tully, off the team. Tully, another former UCLA athlete, looked better than ever earlier this year, but he recently had laser surgery on his calf. The best two jumps by Americans this year are veteran Earl Bell's 19-3 and relative-newcomer Kory Tarpenning's 19-2.
Mike Conley, second at the 1987 world championships, is far ahead of other Americans in the triple jump this year with a best of 56-11 3/4. Among those who might have difficulty making the team are world record-holder Willie Banks and 1984 Olympic champion Al Joyner.
World champion Lewis is favored in the long jump, although he has not jumped as far this year as Larry Myricks, third in the world championships. Myricks' best is 27-11 to Lewis' best of 27-9 1/2. It is unusual for Lewis not to have jumped better than 28 feet at this time of the year, but he likely has been waiting for this competition to peak.
No one in the world, not even East Germany's Heike Drechsler, has been better this year than Florence Griffith Joyner, who married triple jumper Al Joyner earlier this year and became Jackie Joyner-Kersee's sister-in-law. Second at the 1987 world championships in the 200, Griffith Joyner has run a 22.15 this year, the second-fastest time in the world. No one has run faster than her 10.89 in the 100, although East Germany's Marlies Gohr recently equalled it.
Other than Griffith Joyner, the most impressive U.S. sprinter has been Gwen Torrence, formerly of the University of Georgia, who has run 11.04 in the 100 and 22.71 in the 200.
Where does that leave Evelyn Ashford, world record-holder and 1984 Olympic champion in the 100?
She might not be on the team. Besides Griffith Joyner, who, like Joyner-Kersee, attended UCLA, and Torrence, Ashford also has to contend with Sheila Echols, formerly of LSU, UCLA's Gail Devers Roberts and Pam Marshall in the 100 and Dannette Young and Marshall in the 200.
In the 400, Valerie Brisco, the 1984 Olympic champion in the 200 and the 400, has been displaced as the best in the United States by Denean Howard, formerly of Cal State Los Angeles, and Lillie Leatherwood. Brisco will have to be in better condition than she has been in recent weeks to earn a place on the team.
Devers Roberts and Jackie Joyner-Kersee, both coached by UCLA women's Coach Bob Kersee, traded the American record in the 100-meter high hurdles several times this year and now share it at 12.61. If she has improved her form since the NCAA championships, in which she finished third, Devers Roberts should win at the trials, although she may be pushed by Joyner-Kersee.
Joyner-Kersee will compete today and Saturday in the heptathlon, in which she is heavily favored over eight-time national champion Jane Frederick, and then will have a week off before the long jump begins. So that Joyner-Kersee will not become bored, her husband, Kersee, said this week that he wants her to enter the high hurdles, although she probably will not compete in the event at the Olympics even if she qualifies.
Joyner-Kersee also has the fourth-best time by an American this year in the 400-meter intermediate hurdles, but even her husband believes she might be pushing it by entering that event.
Middle Distances, Distances
Mary Decker Slaney, returning to the track after two years off to start a family and recover from injuries, is a prohibitive favorite in the 1,500 and the 3,000.
If she decided to enter the 800 and the 10,000, she probably would be favored in those also.
Vicki Huber of Villanova (4:07.40) , Linda Sheskey (4:07.41) and Ruth Wysocki (4:08.59) have run faster than Slaney (4:09.14) in the 1,500 this year, and Sabrina Dornhoefer (8:44.91), Huber (8:47.35) and Mary Knisely (8:47.45) have faster times than Slaney (8:49.43) in the 3,000. But none is expected to challenge when they meet Slaney head-to-head.
Sylvia Mosqueda of Cal State-LA won the NCAA 10,000 in a meet record 32:28.57, third-best in the United States this year, and could make the team.
American records have been set this year by Ramona Pagel, formerly of San Diego State, in the shot put (66-2 1/2) and Louise Ritter in the high jump (6-8).
But Joyner-Kersee is the class of the U.S. women in field events. Until earlier this year, she shared the world record in the long jump. This year, only world record-holder Galina Chistyaova (24-8) of the Soviet Union and Drechsler (24-6 1/2) have jumped farther than Joyner-Kersee's 24-3.
For only the second time--the first was 1984--enough women have met Olympic qualifying standards to make it possible for the United States to enter the maximum of three competitors in all events.