Skip to main content
Original Issue


The biggest news in U.S. track and field was that our athletes competed at all. Ousted from the Olympics by political priorities, they had little incentive. Yet they performed in other arenas—stoically and often skillfully. Edwin Moses, who almost certainly would have repeated as gold medalist in the 400-meter hurdles, was unbeaten. Bothered far less often than in past years by injury, Mary Decker established herself as the best American woman middle-distance runner in history. And no one could say Arnie Robinson's spirit wasn't willing: the long jumper took a year's leave of absence from teaching in order to train. "I hope that in some way our sacrifice will help keep the planet Earth peaceful," said Moses. "If we can do that passively, what can you say?"


In middle-distance running two Britons seemed to occupy a universe of their own, even when not performing Olympic feats. In addition to tying Sebastian Coe's 1,500 record of 3:32.1 and later breaking it with a time of 3:31.36, Steve Ovett lowered Coe's mile mark from 3:48.95 to 3:48.8 in Oslo. An hour earlier Coe had set a 1,000 record of 2:13.40, thereby becoming the first man to hold the world 800,1,000, 1,500 and mile records simultaneously. In other notable performances by European athletes, France's Philippe Houvion, the world-record holder for a brief span in July, unofficially became the first vaulter to clear 19 feet, reaching 19'¼" in an exhibition near Paris; Guido Kratschmer of West Germany set a world decathlon record of 8,649 points; and Gerd Wessig of East Germany leaped 7'8¾" for a world record in the high jump. As the Soviet bloc continued to dominate women's track and field, Tatyana Kazankina of the U.S.S.R. set a world 1,500 record of 3:52.47, an embarrassing 6.96 seconds better than the American mark, and Poland's Grazyna Rabsztyn reduced the 100 hurdles mark by an impressive .12, running it in 12.36 seconds—half a second lower than the U.S. record.

Though virtually every U.S. athlete had trained with the idea of peaking in Moscow, there was a long list of outstanding American performances in lesser meets. Mary Decker ran the fastest mile (4:17.55) and indoor 1,500 (4:00.8) ever By a woman and set U.S. 1,500 (3:59.43) and 3,000 (8:38.73) records. Edwin Moses lowered his world 400 hurdles record to 47.13 seconds, Craig Virgin set a U.S. 10,000 record (27:29.16), and Larry Myricks establbished a world indoor long-jump record of 27'6". At the U.S. Olympic Trials, Henry Marsh won a grueling steeplechase in an American record of 8:15.68, while Stephanie High-tower won the 100 hurdles in 12.90 seconds, the second-fastest time ever by an American woman. But nothing was quite as uplifting as the perfomance of 1968 gold medalist Madeline Manning, who capped a spectacular comeback by winning the 800 in a Trials-record 1:58.30. The night before, unable to sleep, she picked up a Bible and read, "Ye did run well." Spiritually, all the Americans did.

Hurdler Rod Milburn regained his amateur status and ran superbly in the highs.

Clearing hurdles at Philly's "alternate Olympics," pentathletes were a picture of concentration.

NCAA long-jump champ Carl Lewis (right) won some dashes, too.

Robinson won a gold medal at the Montreal Games Put competed only for himself in 1980.

Mosaic law: Edwin snail win the 400 hurdles.

Decker went all out to break the U.S. women's 1,500 record in Philadelphia. Later she lowered it and excelled in the 3,000, too.

Jodi Anderson got high marks for winning the pentathlon and setting a U.S. long-jump mark (22'11¾") at the Trials.

Pentathlete Jane Frederick showed early foot at the Olympic Trials.