20.01, a race odyssey.
That was Mike Marsh's winning time Thursday in the Olympic 200-meter dash--20 seconds and change. It was also the culmination of four years of dedication, desire and legwork for the sprinter from Hawthorne High and UCLA, who was a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic team but did not get a chance to compete.
"I put a lot of years into this," Marsh said, giving his gold medal a love pat, "and it finally paid off."
No, the 20.01 clocking was not as fast as the world record of 19.72 by Pietro Mennea of Italy that Marsh wanted so badly. And no, it was not as fast as his own near-miss time of 19.73 the previous day that gave Marsh an Olympic record.
But it would do nicely.
"Of course, I was thinking world record," Marsh said. "I'm unhappy that I didn't run harder and get the world record in the semifinals, but world records come and go, and I've got the gold medal in my pocket."
Frankie Fredericks of Namibia, one of three Africans in the eight-man race, placed second in 20.13 seconds. Third was U.S. runner Michael Bates of Tucson, a former University of Arizona football player who was picked in the sixth round of the NFL draft by the Seattle Seahawks.
No one seriously challenged Marsh, who visibly eased up near the finish of Wednesday's semifinal, conserving some energy but costing himself the world record. Mennea's mark is one of track and field's longest-standing records, having been established in 1979.
"After my 19.73, I thought I could break the world record in the final. But I guess I was more tired than I thought," Marsh said.
"It's hard to return and run that fast. I thought to myself about being loose today and, after the first five steps, I realized that I had relaxed too much. I said I'd better get my act together fast."
He did. The outcome of the race was never really in doubt.
Marsh had enough doubts about the progress of his own career after leaving UCLA in 1989 to seek out new coaching and technique. He put himself in the hands of the University of Houston's Tom Tellez, a noted sprint coach who has tutored the likes of Carl Lewis and Leroy Burrell.
As recently as 1991, Marsh ranked no higher than sixth in the United States in both the 100 and 200 meters.
But a complete makeover by Tellez changed the 5-foot-10, 150-pound runner's mental approach to sprinting and mechanics. He credited that for his newfound success, noting that Tellez has now coached the last three Olympic gold medalists in the 200--Lewis, Joe DeLoach and now Marsh.
He has a shot at a second gold medal in the 400-meter relay. Marsh will run the leadoff leg in today's preliminary round for a team that includes Burrell, Dennis Mitchell and James Jett.
If they advance to the finals, Jett's place will be taken by Carl Lewis.
Two gold medals struck Marsh as a pretty nice way to celebrate a birthday. He turned 25 Tuesday.
Track and Field Medalists
* MEN'S 200 METERS
GOLD: Mike Marsh (United States)
SILVER: Frankie Fredericks (Namibia)
BRONZE: Michael Bates (United States)