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Rounding the final turn of the University of Houston's Robertson
Stadium track on Saturday night, Jackie Joyner suddenly came alive.
Just 26 days earlier, Joyner had smashed the world heptathlon record
during the Goodwill Games in Moscow. Now, motivated by a will to
break her own record at the U.S. Olympic Festival, she squared
herself to the Texas heat and the last third of the seventh and final
event, the 800-meter run. A time of 2:10.62, slower by .60 of a
second than she had run in Moscow, would do. ''Look down at the
track,'' Joyner thought. ''Concentrate on yourself. Go to your arms
and move.''
As Joyner's star was rising, Carl Lewis was trying to make his
own shine again. World records have always eluded Lewis; indeed, his
closest call had come in his favorite event at the National Sports
Festival, as it was then called, four years ago in Indianapolis,
where a long jump estimated at 30 feet was raked away because of a
questionable foot-fault call. At the time, Lewis said the leap that
would erase Bob Beamon's 18-year-old 29 ft. 2 1/2 in. mark would
come. But even though Lewis has won his last 48 long jump
competitions, he still carries the mental weight of Beamon's record.
''I'm relaxed, I'm at home and I'm in phenomenal shape, as good or
better than for the Olympics,'' Lewis said last week. ''This is
the ideal position, ideal place, ideal time.''
Not this time, though. On Saturday, after Lewis anchored the South
team to victory in the Festival's 4 X 100 relay, he iced his left
knee, which had been bothering him since mid-July. ''If I can walk
tomorrow, I'll jump,'' he said. He could, but he didn't. After a few
practice passes he scratched because of a swollen knee. He said
afterward that it looked ''bleak'' for his upcoming European
First-class performers like Joyner and Lewis wanted to make the
Festival's track and field competition, always diminished by
late-shows and no-shows, into a show of shows. Coming each
non-Olympic year at a crucial time during the lucrative European
track season, the 34-sport Festival tries to sell national spirit
and a free trip home to top American athletes. The meet and the
crowds have gradually gotten bigger since the Festival began in 1978.
A record Festival turnout of 16,500 roared for Joyner on Saturday.
The crowds would have been even larger and the spotlight
brighter had Renaldo (Skeets) Nehemiah moved a little faster.
Nehemiah, whose 110-meter high hurdles world record of 12.93 seconds
has lasted through the four years he was a receiver for the San
Francisco 49ers, has had his amateur track status reinstated by the
IAAF, the international track and field governing body. But he
vacillated about entering the Festival until the extra lane in which
he might have run was filled by an old nemesis, Greg Foster.
Some of the hurdlers in Houston viewed Skeets as a fifth wheel.
''It's disgusting to have to wait for one man to put glamour back
into the hurdles,'' said Roger Kingdom, the '84 Olympic gold medal
winner. ''It's an insult to us.''
Foster said, ''Nehemiah will never go under 13 (seconds) again.
Never again. The day (Nehemiah) beats me is the day I don't finish
the race.'' Foster then didn't finish the race because of leg cramps.
Tonie Campbell won in a slow 13.57. Nehemiah planned to return
to competition this week in Viareggio, Italy.
Joyner wrapped up the four-event first day of the heptathlon that
had begun inauspiciously. Shooting for a 12.75 in the 100-meter
hurdles, she finished in 13.16, .31 of a second off her Goodwill
time. The temperature, which reportedly reached 126 degrees on the
polyurethane track, and the oppressive humidity could have served as
handy excuses for Joyner to slip into cruise control, but she
continued to push. ''The 13.16 happened for a reason,'' she . said.
''It happened so I could get the points back in something else. The
heptathlon always slaps you back to reality.''
Joyner then gathered steam, equaling her personal best in the high
jump (6 ft. 2 in.), setting a PB in the shot put (49 ft. 10 1/2 in.)
and ripping off a heptathlon world best in the 200, with a 22.85. Her
first-day point total of 4,148 was three shy of her record Moscow
output. She went back to her room, iced her troublesome hamstring and
tried not to think too much about the day ahead.
''Press it, press it, press it,'' Joyner's husband and coach, Bob
Kersee, yelled to her from the stands as she took off on her second
long jump attempt on Saturday. Joyner charged hard and took off a
millimeter from the foul line, hanging long enough not just to press
it, but also to fold it and put it away. Her 23 ft. 3/4 in. flight
was another heptathlon world best, and the record chase was now
really on. She set yet another PB with a heave of 164 ft. 5 in. in
the javelin. After waiting an hour for the start of the 800, Joyner
ran laboriously through the first 500 meters. ''It was the first time
the husband in me was fighting with the coach,'' said Kersee, having
been the former for seven months, the latter for six years. ''I
wanted to ask her if she was dizzy or tired or what. But the coach
was saying, 'Damn, you didn't drag me 7,000 miles back and forth for
nothing. So let's get it done.' ''
Joyner sighted Jolanda Jones 25 meters ahead of her and began to
pump going into the last turn. Coming out of it she had passed Jones,
and was cruising on her own down the backstretch into a light breeze
in front of a charged crowd. When Joyner crossed in 2:09.69, she was
utterly spent, and her point total of 7,161 was 13 more than she had
piled up in Moscow. ''It happened in the United States, in front of
the people I know, and that's a good feeling,'' said an elated
Joyner, who bettered her nearest competitor by 1,024 points.
Kersee pointed to a yellow baseball cap he was wearing with RECORD
branded across it. ''To do that in a month's time in this much
heat, my hat is off to her,'' he said. ''This hat is retired.'' END


PHOTOGRAPHS BY RICH CLARKSON Joyner became a princess of midair when she soared 23 ft.3/4 in. in the heptathlon long jump.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY RICH CLARKSON Kersee (left) lent a hand after the 800. !

PHOTOGRAPHS BY RICH CLARKSON Lewis (83) ran a good leg in the relay, but a bad leg made him pass up the long jump.