EACH OF THE SIX, THINKING HE MIGHT SOMEDAY be the fastest man in the world, went to Houston to check out the track coach Tom Tellez, and each of the six remembers Tellez telling him, straight off: “There are two ways to run a race. The right way, and the wrong way.” Or, not beating around the bush: “The right way, and the way you run.” Tellez did not pat any of them on the back. He offered no smile. He just looked them in the eye, deadpan. The more they heard him go on in earnest detail about biomechanics and physics and kinesiology, never easing up, the more they had to wonder: When is this old crank going to tell me how great I am?
For each of them, even for Carl Lewis, the most dominant sprinter of all time, the question is still pending. Each of them, even Lewis, who as a high school senior in 1979 was chased right and left by recruiters but paid his own way to Houston to interview with Tellez, is still waiting to hear the coach say, “You did it! You ran it exactly right!” And Tellez is still waiting for one of them, perhaps Lewis, perhaps Leroy Burrell or Mike Marsh, or perhaps Joe DeLoach or Floyd Heard or Mark Witherspoon, to speed down the track with absolutely perfect form: arms out front, strides easy, shoulders straight, no lunging at the tape, earth-to-earth lightning from start to finish.
Each of the six, every time he races, takes another run at reaching maximum potential, but in May, under a piercing Texas sun, they were gathered solely to prepare and train. They tossed gym bags on the grass near a reddish-brown oval on the grounds of the University of Houston, the base of operations for Tellez, a native Southern Californian. They stretched and contorted gracefully, methodically, as dancers do. All six were committed body and soul to Tellez. All were the eager subjects of this cheerless, brutally honest, scientifically guided perfectionist. Where other coaches see runners destined to be good-enough runners or also-rans, Tellez sees young men into whom he can pour his consummate knowledge of the sprint, transforming them into 10-second men wonders. His quest had become their quest. Although they were all members of California’s Santa Monica Track Club, they had taken up residence in and around Houston to be near Tellez. They had sworn off parties and worked with free weights and trimmed their diets to the essentials until their bodies were as splendidly exquisite as Greek statues. And they had exercised their minds, sharpening their focus, learning moxie, practicing mental reflexes, rehearsing a plan, because in this brotherhood of the righteous, select few, there is no one who wins on sheer talent.
Tellez stood by while they loosened up. He’s short and slim and deeply tanned, young looking at 58 save for hair gone white. His gaze was fixed on their every movement. “We’re doing OK, but we have to do better,” he said, drolly pessimistic. “It’s time to step it up.” This was a month before the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in New Orleans, two months before next week’s opening of the Barcelona Games. That day in May, the six definitely ranked among the top 15 in the world for the two sprint events, the 100 and 200 meters; they were arguably within the Top 10, and conceivably they constituted the top six.
But none of that assured them of the goal at hand: getting to Barcelona. Or the goal after that: winning medals. “Other runners out there can beat them,” Tellez said matter of factly (and prophetically, though he could not know it then). He constantly had to remind them of that.
This was all they knew in May in Texas: Each of them needed to reach maximum at the Games, not six weeks out in New Orleans. Yet no one could afford to hold back in the trials. All of them were 25 or older, well into their prime sprinting years. There might not be another Olympics for them. They had to qualify. They had to get to Barcelona, to the bright, floodlighted track circling inside a Spanish stadium, the perfect place to show the world the meshing of their talent and his genius. The perfect opportunity to pursue once more the elusive purity of the perfect race.
WARM-UPS OVER, LEROY BURrell and Mike Marsh are the first into the blocks. Burrell sports a mustache and a chronic five o’clock shadow. Thickly built, he has a body for heavier-duty sports but says he is not interested in a second love like pro football. Marsh, on the other hand, is the picture of smoothness. His head is shaved. His arm and leg muscles are slicked up under the skin instead of bulging through.
For as long as Burrell and Marsh have been racing, way back to high school, Carl Lewis has been The Man, but in the ‘90s these two have begun to give him a run for his money. In the past two years, Burrell’s overall times have evened out as the best in the world in the 100 meters, and this year Marsh has come on, posting the fastest pretrials times for an American in both the 100 and 200.
A pistol is fired, and Burrell and Marsh charge ahead. “Keep turning over, keep turning over,” Tellez barks out, by which he means, put one foot in front of the other as fast as possible, a concept so prehistoric it seems simple-minded of him to keep repeating it to a pair of world-class athletes.
But the most basic elements of running take on new meaning when Tellez is your coach. “Swing through, swing through,” he shouts at them. Under his breath he mutters to me: “Their knees are too high. Extra knee-lift doesn’t do jack for you. You’ve got to swing your leg through.” He stops to sniff a medicated inhaler. At the previous Saturday’s meet in New York, he caught a cold when the temperature fell 40 degrees in four hours. “Your forward motion,” he says, pantomiming the motions, “is based on the revolutions you make with your legs, and for every revolution, your feet have to hit the ground. The higher your knees are, the farther from the ground your feet are.” He glares as Burrell and Marsh walk back 100 meters to the starting point. “Actually, there’s a little more to it. With your knees too high, you sit back and lose momentum.”
Actually, there’s a lot more to it. Competitive running is hardly what it seems to be: ready, set, and go like hell. Every move is endlessly practiced and choreographed, based on the laws of Newton and assorted biomechanical principles. Other track coaches may understand psych-outs and the rest of the head game better than Tellez, but no one beats him at the science. Lewis, the phenom from suburban Philadelphia, surprised people by seeking out and choosing Tellez to be his college coach despite receiving the royal treatment from several bigger names, such as Jumbo Elliott of Villanova University, but in Lewis’ mind his decision was not a close call. Tellez was different from everyone else because, rather than take Lewis’ future greatness as a given, he told this long whip of a kid that only if he perfected his style would he have a shot at being great. The subsequent years are sports history.
Talking about the made-over Lewis, Tellez says: “Carl had a habit back then of really getting his knees up, which looked marvelous to fans and to sportswriters, and Carl was proud as can be. I had to tell him his knee-lift was a waste of energy and motion.” Nothing in Tellez’s expression changes, no chuckle, no half grin, nothing. He is as serious now as he was 13 years ago. “Carl listened and went out and lowered his knees. He’s an instinctive learner, completely tuned in to his body. Whatever I showed him, two minutes later he’d be out on the track implementing it.” The perfect mimic, the perfect accentuator of the positive, Lewis won so many blue ribbons everyone lost count.
From the start, the relationship has been a two-way street. By the very nature of his incredible skills, Lewis has been an object lesson to Tellez. He was the sprinter who would define his sport, a breakthrough champion, the embodiment of all the abstracts of geometry and math and physics that Tellez had so studiously researched.
The traditional way of running a short race was to go all out, pretty much in freestyle fashion, and for most of Tellez’s time in California, through his student years as a so-so hurdler and a jack-in-the-box halfback at Whittier College and as an up-and-coming coach at Buena Park High School, Fullerton College and UCLA, he was a traditionalist, coaching his runners as he had been coached. “All you used to hear a coach say was, ‘Go, go, go.’ Running was thought of as voodoo. One guy was faster than another because of some mysterious power he had,” he says. Eventually he noticed that the fastest runners had certain things in common, and it occurred to him that running freestyle was haywire: “I wanted to create a scientific model every runner could use.”
Tellez boned up on basic notions about velocity and levers and anatomy. He took notes from scientific journals and the classic track textbooks. In the library, to his amazement, he also found a treasure trove of dusty master’s and doctoral theses about the mechanics of running. He read them all. He assembled his own library: journals from Europe and the Soviet Union, every available piece of film, shots from every angle, every era, even those predating Jesse Owens. He watched them over and over. “Most coaches notice the dissimilarities between runners. I was looking for similarities. When you look carefully, you see the body works best only one way,” Tellez says.
Studying Owens and the other greats on film, scanning their blurred bodies frame by frame, matching action against biomechanical principles, Tellez began to see how a race should be run. A lot of what he learned went against the grain. It was always assumed that you should start a race with your eyes on the finish line, but Tellez decided you should have your head aimed downward, as though to pitch face first onto the track. Unconventional and uncomfortable, yes, but it forces the rest of your body into the proper position for takeoff. From start to finish, he identified the other elements of mechanical perfection: a straight spine, head in alignment, an even backswing with the arms, long leg strides, knees bent at a natural point in the upswing and so on.
It seemed logical that a runner with good mechanics would be a faster runner. Armed with this theory, Tellez left an assistant’s job at UCLA in 1976 for the head job at the University of Houston. There, the theory did produce all-conference runners out of typical student athletes. Then, three years later, along came the atypical and preternatural Lewis. Could Tellez turn a star into a superstar? Indeed he could. “Watching Carl get better and better was truly gratifying,” he says. “I’d tell him about parabolic curves and acceleration curves, all the information I had, and he’d put it into action.” Every time Lewis stepped onto the track, the science of running came stupendously to life.
Up until the Lewis era, the 10-second 100 had seemed virtually unattainable, except for a freakish 9.95 run by Jim Hines at the 1968 Olympics. In the past decade, however, Lewis, Burrell and Marsh, as well as two runners who don’t train with Tellez but who belong to the same school of scientific thought, Calvin Smith and Dennis Mitchell, have shattered the barrier numerous times.
As word has spread, one potential Olympian after another--not only sprinters, but hurdlers, long jumpers, high jumpers, vaulters, javelin throwers and decathletes who understand that their performances depend in large measure on how well they can take advantage of the laws of motion--have arrived with their bags at Tellez’s sweaty, Spartan quarters in the Jeppesen Fieldhouse, an old piece of flat architecture splotched throughout with Texas red. Tellez accepts some of the athletes and turns the others away. His criteria have less to do with their stat sheets than with their work ethic and their willingness to take criticism on the chin. And if they qualify, Tellez’s expertise is offered essentially gratis. The Santa Moncia Track Club, for instance, pays his expenses when he accompanies the sprinters to meets, but it is the university job, not coaching Olympians, that butters Tellez’s bread.
Marsh and Burrell return to the blocks and, in tandem, run again. This time their movements seem at once more deliberate and more rhythmic.
“OK, that’s a little better,” Tellez says, a high compliment, and the two take a break.
Burrell, who is 25, grew up in the Delaware Valley not far from the scene of Lewis’ schoolboy exploits, and he knew early on he wanted the same college coach as Lewis. In 1985, he arrived in Houston as a freshman and has been training with Tellez since. “The rah-rah coaches are fun, but you are basically on your own. Coach T is the opposite. He never fails to tell you what you’re doing wrong,” Burrell says, flopping down on the grass. “Some coaches are afraid to hurt your feelings. Not Coach T. He doesn’t hesitate.”
Marsh, also 25 but a relative newcomer in Houston, goes over to scold two hurdlers, a man and woman, who are engaged in mock wrestling on the infield. “Hey, cut that out,” he warns. “Somebody’s going to get hurt.” Tellez glances over, and the couple, flirting a bit as they go, head back to the track. On orders from Tellez, there is not supposed to be any horseplay that might result in injury.
Marsh sits down. “Coach T is in charge,” he says. “We go to meets when he says and stay home when he says, even if we lose out on appearance fees. Money is never part of his decision-making. We trust him. He has a vision and a plan for our careers. Right now it’s how to get to Barcelona.” Right now Marsh would follow his coach over a cliff. After a long career as a middle-of-the-pack runner, through school in Hawthorne and undergraduate years at UCLA, Marsh came to Tellez in 1990, hoping that a new coach and a new approach would change his luck. At first, it didn’t. At last year’s U.S. championships, he struggled to fifth place in the 200 and seventh in the 100. But this year, just in time for the trials, Marsh all of a sudden was a legitimate contender. The man to beat, though, was still Lewis, and after him, Burrell, who held the world record for the 100 through much of the 1991 season only to lose it to Lewis at the very end. There have been mechanical lapses for Burrell this year, but recently he has regained his form. “I kept telling him he had to bring his legs all the way through,” Tellez says. “About a week ago, it clicked.” Burrell gets to his feet at a signal from Tellez, a slight nod. No yogi ever controlled his surface demeanor better.
Over his shoulder, Burrell says: “When we’re on the track with Coach T there are no stars.” A smile and a wink. “Except for him.”
THE QUIET ONE, FLOYD HEARD, leans against a cement wall, suffering from mental fatigue. “At this level, it’s 100% mental,” Heard says. “Like Coach T is always telling us, ‘Your body wants to work perfectly. It’s your mind you have to concentrate on.’ ” Yesterday Tellez caught him overreacting to the gun, his head snapping up, and today Heard is working on that single flaw, over and over. Tellez calls for at least four practices a week, from 1:30 to 3:30 in the afternoons. Speed is the emphasis at half the practices, technique at the other half. The former leaves the runners with their tongues hanging out, but the latter is far more exhausting. They work on their technique until their brains feel fried.
Every flaw is worth a fraction of a second, and a fraction is all that separates Heard from Lewis, Burrell and Marsh. He has been a few hundredths of a second away from the magical 10-second 100, and this year he is the fourth regular, along with the three of them, on the Santa Monica Track Club 4x200 relay team, a quartet that broke the world record in April, at the Penn Relays in Philadelphia, despite one poorly exchanged handoff.
Baby-faced, with eyes that seem both merry and serious, the 26-year-old Heard has been with Tellez since 1988. He had tried for a Houston track scholarship earlier, fresh from high school in Milwaukee, but the university was at its limit, so he settled for one from Texas A&M.; After two years he left school and joined the Santa Monica club, training with Tellez. “At A&M; I ran tensed up. My face was scrinched up. My shoulders were scrinched up. Coach T taught me to run relaxed,” he says. “Being relaxed is the secret to my success.”
Mark Witherspoon goes to the blocks and is next to get the hard once-over from Tellez. Witherspoon is 28, a long-legged, lean, rippling sprinter and relay man who heard of Tellez while at Abilene Christian College and began training with him in 1986. Though Witherspoon has not yet competed in a big international meet, he has been running some good times this year. He has always had the ability, Tellez says, but he just had to harness it.
“Running relaxed, that’s the ticket,” says Witherspoon. Each of the six will tell you the same thing. Tellez himself, when he’s not zeroing in on specifics, chants a mantra, “Relax. Don’t get quick. Slow down.”
Slow down? It’s one thing to turn conventional track-and-field wisdom on its head, but to tell a sprinter to run slowly? It is so opposed to what most people intuit about racing that it doesn’t seem to make sense. Yet Tellez shakes his head, insisting, “Slow down! Slow down, and you’ll go faster.”
Of course, the riddle is obvious. It’s Zen. Running a race is like running a life. Conserve yourself, pace yourself, attend to everything in its own sweet time, and you’ll reach the finish in great shape. Notwithstanding that only a rare number of us get the hang of pacing ourselves over a span of 70 or 80 years, Tellez expects his runners to do this through a race that lasts all of 10 seconds, not significantly longer than it takes to turn a page or blow a kiss. He expects them to do it because scientifically it makes total sense.
Tellez’s runners know by heart the five phases of a sprint, which, when divided into percentages, provide the perfect game plan for a race. Phase 1: Reacting to the gun (1%). Phase 2: Clearing the blocks (5%). Phase 3: Accelerating to peak velocity (64%). Phase 4: Maintaining peak velocity (18%). Phase 5: Decelerating (12%).
According to a law of physics, runners must slack off once they’ve hit top speed just as objects that go up must come down once they’ve reached their highest point. At best, a runner has a second or two before deceleration sets in. Clearly most races are won or lost in Phase 3. Revving up too quickly means spending too much of a race trying to resist an implacable fact of science. You will start running on empty. “Here’s a common situation. A guy gets the jump on you. Do you follow your instincts and turn on the afterburners? Well, if you do, you’ll lose” is what Tellez tells his runners.
There are dozens of body motions that Tellez teaches, but he is not like some high-tech coaches who cannot simplify themselves. The whole of his philosophy can be summed up in his seemingly contradictory one-liner: Slow down (near the beginning of a race) , and you’ll go faster (into the finish). A hot flash in the first half of a race is a guy with a scrinched-up expression, clenched muscles, fading willpower and shortening strides in the homestretch, whereas one of Tellez’s steady, easygoing runners is still gliding along with long kicks.
“ Just go! --that’s how I was brought up. It’s taken me a long time to learn to race with a game plan,” Marsh says.
THE GAME PLAN DOES NOT COME naturally, least of all to Joe DeLoach, and least of all to Joe DeLoach today. He is babying a sore quadriceps and has to go over the game plan only in his head. “All my life I’ve been somebody who likes to put the hammer down. On-your-mark-BOOM! I’ve had to fight to get control of that urge. I’ve had to fight to learn discipline and patience,” DeLoach tells me. He has the scrubbed-clean handsomeness of the kid next door and a smile as big as a country mile. DeLoach, 25, is the reigning Olympic gold medalist in the 200, and he was in tiptop condition, never running better, until the quad popped a week ago. It’s not a serious injury, but the timing is terrible, and it’s got him searching his soul. His entire career is up in the air.
This state of affairs is nothing new for DeLoach. He grew up in Bay City, Tex., 100 miles south of Houston, and DeLoach was thrilled in 1985 when Carl Lewis personally rode down to Bay City on a recruiting visit. DeLoach thereupon signed with Houston, only to discover Lewis’ visit had been in violation of NCAA rules. The thrill ended up costing DeLoach a year of eligibility. During that year, Tellez expected DeLoach to keep himself primed, and when DeLoach got flabby mentally and physically he fell out of favor. The saving grace was that DeLoach, up close, is enormously likable, and Tellez, aided and abetted by Lewis, gave him a second look and decided to turn him into a special project.
The Tellez effect did not take hold right away, but when it did, DeLoach found himself at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul making the cut for the 200. Two lanes away from him in the finals was Lewis, the invincible man, high-stepping for the crowd. The two runners had become best friends, close as blood, but DeLoach had remained the little brother, the protege. Up to that point Lewis had won six Olympic gold medals in six attempts. DeLoach looked up and down the track rather than sideways at Lewis. The only person you’re competing with is yourself , Tellez had beaten that into his brain. DeLoach tried to visualize the race ahead, his body switching gears through the five phases ( slow down! ) and suddenly, “I could see myself doing it, just the way Coach T described it.” And then suddenly he was doing it. Lewis, the runner-up, walked over to offer congratulations, feeling stunned, though not half as stunned as DeLoach.
Within months, however, DeLoach had to undergo surgery for a torn hamstring, and for the next three years other injuries kept him from running at 100%. Then his wife gave birth to Joe the third, and with the responsibility of a child on top of his medical problems, DeLoach began to think of retiring from competition. “I asked Coach T, ‘Can I ever get back to where I’ve been?’ Coach T is like a father. We love him and believe him on faith because he’s never lied to us. He told me how badly I had to want it and how hard I had to work to come back,” DeLoach says, “and I realized I could do it.”
At a practice eight days ago, at long last, that superman glow began radiating through him again. The next day, still flushed, DeLoach came jogging around a curve to see Burrell and Marsh, legs cocked for a one-on-one, and in a split second he dropped into position alongside them and put the pedal to the metal. “Talk about falling into bad old habits, talk about dumb,” he says. The pain in his quadriceps flared immediately.
“I’ve told them a thousand times you can’t be careless, not this close to the trials,” says Tellez, exasperated. Though DeLoach is the defending Olympic champion, he must run a qualifying time of 20.4 or better this year in the 200 merely to be invited to the trials. As things stand, he will have only one chance to do so, at a meet in Indianapolis on June 10.
He rubs and massages his leg. “I can feel the knot, but it’s getting looser every day. I’ll be ready for Indianapolis,” he says, and adds this, as if it were the lone variable: “Just pray the weather’s good.”
The reality is far more pessimistic. “It’s a long shot,” Tellez says candidly. He has a weary economy of expression that bespeaks a lifetime of experience. “I was watching Joe when it happened, but what could I do? He has to be responsible for himself,” Tellez says, pausing. “I don’t know. Maybe it is my responsibility. Joe was depending on me. I should’ve made him be more careful.” There is more than a little heartbreak in his voice.
SPORTS CAR SLIDES into the parking lot, and out bounds Carl Lewis, late again. “I’m here, I’m here!” Unquestionably the grand master, the oldest and boldest of the Santa Monica Six, he grabs a few hands and strips down to a pair of three-tone running shoes and tight, high-waisted blue shorts. He looks a bit otherworldly in this half-naked state, only hairless skin showing. “I feel good,” he says. A chiropractor has been treating Lewis for tightness in his back, but he stretches out with no difficulty. “I think it’s time to start stepping it up.”
Hearing Lewis’ pronouncement, Tellez cracks a smile, his first of the day. A while later there is a second smile, when I ask if any race has come close to perfection. “The finals last year in Tokyo,” he answers, “when Carl set the record.”
This was in August at the world championships, which are held every two years. Lewis won the 100 in 9.86 seconds, the fastest officially recognized time ever, even though he was an underdog to Burrell going in. “Carl ran a beautiful race. He didn’t hurry himself, he didn’t take the lead till the last five meters, but I’ve never seen anyone finish so strong,” Tellez says. “He was 99% perfect. His only hitch was at the start, as usual.”
It is no secret that, great as Lewis is, he has always reacted slowly to the gun. Against top competition he almost never is ahead in Phase 1 or Phase 2. A coach with a different perfectionist’s bent would have fired starter’s pistols at Lewis in practice until he was jumping out of his skin. But Tellez instead taught him a few compensatory tricks, such as pushing hardest out of the front block for better forward thrust, and convinced him that with his exceptional eight-foot strides, he need not worry about being behind early in a race. “He convinced me it could be to my advantage. Let the other runners worry about me catching up,” Lewis says. “Coach T is such an unbelievable teacher, and the main thing he’s taught me is to have confidence in the game plan. When you have confidence you can relax.”
Before the Tokyo race Tellez did a couple of things he rarely does anymore. He gave Lewis a pep talk and openly predicted his victory. When the chips are down, he told Lewis, a true champion summons up massive will. You can’t miss the bond between the two men, and, as much as anything, it is their deep-down belief in each other that unites them.
Given that Lewis will forever be Tellez’s favorite, and given what I’d heard about the kind of guy Lewis is supposed to be, his reputation of being “a child who has climbed a tree and lost himself in the self-absorption of how far out on a limb he can go,” as Sports Illustrated once put it, not to mention his high-rent wardrobe and his zest for publicity, you have to assume there is some resentment of him among his teammates. Maybe there is, but it’s not detectable. On the contrary, Lewis’ teammates will adamantly argue that he has endured a lot of bad press in order to give the sport of track more pizazz and drama, as Muhammad Ali once did for boxing, thereby attracting sponsorship money for an annual six-month season of outdoor track meets.
Bonus money is divided among the top finishers, enabling runners who are long on speed but short on contracts to earn enough of a living to be out every afternoon with their coach rather than at day jobs. Lewis himself is financially well-off thanks to contracts with Panasonic Corp., Kodak and other companies (it’s estimated that he has earned $3 million to $4 million a year), but Lewis has continued to campaign nonstop to give his sport more professionalism and more equitable profit-sharing. On a personal level, as far as his teammates go, he’s involved them as partners in a sportswear merchandising business, called Modern Men Inc., that relies heavily on his commercial image.
The company features African prints and designer running suits, including the nude-look suit made semi-famous by Lewis. The Lewis style is the rage of the European circuit, where mail-order sales have been brisk, and in January, the company opened a retail store in Houston.
Where Lewis really contributes to his teammates’ careers, though, is on the practice field. Nothing focuses a runner like a chance to beat The Man. His training partner today will be Witherspoon. The rap on Witherspoon is that, because of injuries and perhaps a lack of mental toughness, he’s never lived up to his potential. (His best performance was during a 1987 national championship in San Jose, where he defeated Lewis.) Now, when Lewis makes his move toward the blocks, Tellez tells Witherspoon: “I want you to run with Carl as long as he stays out here. He’s going to be stepping it up, which is what you need.” Witherspoon looks tired. The 88-degree temperature has been baking the pep out of us. But he follows Tellez’s orders.
The irony is that this year, it’s Lewis who needs the motivation. Lewis’ performances in the early season have been sporadic, his attitude nonchalant. He has run the 100 and 200 only on occasion. Partly it’s the distractions, the usual hounding by reporters and fans, plus time spent on expansion plans for Modern Men and a busy schedule shooting Panasonic commercials for a $17-million ad campaign to be launched during the Olympics. But there also are questions brought on by the fact that Lewis is turning 31. And though it’s true his physical skills remain second to none, as demonstrated so remarkably in Tokyo, he admits to feeling a certain ennui. “Unless it’s a big race I have trouble getting myself up psychologically,” he tells me. “There are kids who go crazy trying to win every race, which is how I used to be, but I’ve been around for such a long time that now I have to pick my races where I really and truly want to get into it. I need the adrenaline to flow.”
Tellez, honest man that he is, says: “There is such a thing as being too relaxed, and so far this year Carl is too relaxed. And time is getting short.” He crosses his arms and goes back to watching his runners, watching for their imperfections.
AS IT WOULD TURN out, three of the Santa Monica Six would make the Olympic sprint team, and three would not.
DeLoach was the first to lose out. His leg did not heal by the time of the Indianapolis meet, and he was rendered ineligible. “Now he will have to decide how dedicated he’s willing to be,” Tellez said. “If he’s dedicated enough, and I think he is, he’ll be back running in Europe by the end of the summer. And then next year there’s the World Championships.”
For the fan who tunes in to track only on occasion, however, what happened at the trials from June 19 to 28 in New Orleans had to be more than a little confounding. Although Burrell qualified in the 100, as expected, he was uncomfortable in the blocks and was called for a false start in the finals. And two virtual unknowns, Witherspoon and Marsh, stole the show. Witherspoon ran the race of his life to qualify in the 100, and Marsh lived up to his early-season promise, qualifying in the 200. Witherspoon and Marsh, along with Burrell, qualified for the 4x100 relay team as well.
On the other hand, Heard faded into the middle of the pack in both the 100 and 200, and, of all people, Lewis faded, too. He was fourth in the 200 and a desperate sixth in the 100. That was good enough only for an alternate’s spot on the relay team, which he declined. Lewis intimated after the 100 race that he was not feeling well. In fact, he was found to have a sinus infection. Not since 1976, when he was 15, has Lewis not been among America’s Olympian runners. “It’s nobody’s fault but my own. I’ve just felt flat all week long,” he said, adding graciously, “I guess it’s my turn to be on the sidelines rooting for my teammates.”
There seems to be two ways to assess the outcome of this year’s trials. One is to say that Witherspoon’s and Marsh’s performances, placing them in excellent positions for medals in Barcelona, have nicely proved Tellez’s philosophy. The other is to say that Lewis’ failure, which was the talk of the whole week, has done the opposite.
Leave it to Tellez to have a third perspective. He does not want to diminish the value of winning or losing, he says, nor the value of the Olympics, but he wants it made clear there is a bigger picture. “When you lose, all you’ve done is lost a race. You haven’t failed. Your philosophy hasn’t failed,” he says. He figures the philosophy itself is not as important as the fortitude it takes to carry through the ups and downs. “The real test is to go back out, work hard and succeed. Don’t give up. The goal is to run your best race. Ultimately the goal is to run the ultimate race. Maybe I’ll live long enough to see it.”