On a long, strange day at the USA Mobil Outdoor Track and Field Championships Thursday, athletes must have thought they had taken a wrong turn and ended up at the Extreme Games.
Battling cold, rain, wind, and, for a head-splitting while, an incessant car alarm in the Hughes Stadium parking lot, some no doubt were wondering whether Valium is on the banned list.
Most of the experienced world-class performers were not unnerved by the challenge. Dan O'Brien, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson, did all that they had to do. But some, such as Quincy Watts and Andre Cason, did not linger past the second day of the championships.
Mercifully, there were only two injuries requiring stretchers. In the more unusual, an official, Andrew Bard of Los Angeles, collapsed in the infield, generating concern that he had been struck by a javelin landing close to him, but he reported later that he merely stumbled over a hole created during the hammer throw and injured his leg.
Decathlete Aric Long, a 1992 Olympian, was victimized by a slippery pole vault runway during a warm-up and tumbled into the mouth of the landing pit. He was taken to the UC Davis Medical Center but returned to the track three hours later after X-rays revealed no fractures and cleared a height of 15 feet 5 inches.
The 32-minute interruption while medical personnel attended to Long at the track came on top of a nearly two-hour delay in the decathlon pole vault during a downpour in which winds gusted to more than 20 m.p.h. Officials ultimately could not resume the competition until they turned the pit around so that the decathletes could vault with the wind at their backs.
For O'Brien, found last year to have attention deficit disorder, it could not have been a comfortable interlude, particularly considering that he did not have a clearance, or even an attempt, behind him before the interruption. But if his well-publicized difficulties before in the event weighed on his mind, it was not evident as he succeeded on both of his attempts.
Although O'Brien, the reigning world champion, struggled early on the first day, he was unfazed Thursday, coming within 19 points of his world-record pace after a personal best of 167-11 in the discus throw, the seventh of 10 events. But although the delays that forced the decathletes to remain at the stadium almost three hours later into the night than scheduled, long after most of the crowd of 4,237 had deserted, and temperatures that dropped into the 50s conspired to foil a world-record effort, O'Brien won comfortably.
Unlike O'Brien, Joyner-Kersee did not bounce back from her difficult first day, But she persevered to win, running the final event, the 800 meters, while wearing an allergy mask. Her 6,375 points were her fewest since her silver-medal performance in the 1984 Summer Olympics and only 19 more than scored by Kym Carter and Kelly Blair.
"I asked my body to do something it wasn't ready to do," said Joyner-Kersee, who has not been able to extend herself in workouts because of sore hamstrings. "This was a very embarrassing performance for me. I'm not washed up. I just need to put it together."
Attempting to become the first man since 1899 to win the 200 and 400 in the same U.S. championships, Johnson qualified easily for tonight's 400 final. But 1992 Olympic champion Watts failed, finishing seventh in his semifinal heat with a time--47.34 seconds--inferior to some he ran seven years ago at Taft High in Woodland Hills.
Top sprinters such as Lewis, Leroy Burrell, Dennis Mitchell, Jon Drummond and Mike Marsh advanced through two rounds of the 100 into tonight's final, but Cason, the 1993 world championship silver medalist, went out in the first round.
Fourteen years after Lewis won his first national championship in the 100 at Hughes Stadium, there was speculation based on his results this season that he might not qualify for the final. But he rose to the challenge, finishing second in his semifinal heat with a time of 10.12.
"You think I came here for nothing?" he asked reporters. "I came here to win."
In finals Thursday night, Todd Williams won the men's 10,000 in 28:01.84 and Gina Procaccio won the women's 5,000 in 15:26.34.