The intimacy is almost startling. Peter Julian's face is no more
than two feet away, as close as if he were a friend or relative
discussing his deepest dreams or secrets. This is a public
place, a stretch of grass at one end of a track and field
stadium in Indianapolis, people all around packing up and
leaving at the end of the night's competition, but no one else
is paying attention.
"I've never been a natural talent," Julian says. "Never. I
didn't make the cross-country varsity in high school until my
senior year. College, nobody wanted me...."
The words rush from his mouth, unstoppable, no filter involved.
How long has he been waiting to say this stuff, waiting for
someone, anyone, to listen? How many times has he said these
same words to himself, alone, running on a road somewhere,
kicking himself up a hill, using the words as high-octane fuel?
"The University of Oregon, where I grew up, didn't want me," he
says. "Cal-Irvine laughed at me. They said they had women who
ran faster than I did. The University of Portland, where I went,
cost $11,000 a year, and they gave me $1,500. It was more later,
but $1,500 at the beginning."
He stands in his stocking feet, holding his running shoes and
his medal in his right hand. He is a small man, maybe 5'8", 130
pounds. He is 26 years old. A breeze has kicked up, and he
shivers a bit in the June night. His blue singlet is still wet
with perspiration, stuck to his body after his race. He finished
third in the 10,000 at these U.S. Track and Field Championships.
He hung with the leaders, Michael Mykytok and Rueben Reina, for
25 laps around the track and was outkicked in the stretch, where
everyone was just flailing, no thinking involved, just flailing
and running as fast as possible. Julian is ecstatic. Third is
the highest he has finished in any national competition. "I hear
these commentators--Frank Shorter and Marty Liquori--talking
about the state of American long-distance running," he says.
"They always say that no one in the U.S. wants to work hard
enough, that we've become soft. Well, I work. I work harder than
anyone--the Kenyans, anyone. I do the miles."
The stadium lights are being turned off. Julian talks in the
half darkness about his job in a shoe store, about his life on
the economic margins, about eating macaroni and cheese and tuna
all the time, about living with his brother, who also is a
runner. Stay with this until Sydney 2000, the next
Olympics--that's the ticket. Ride out the ride. If there are
impediments, they have to be removed. See how good you can be.
"I was engaged, but it just didn't work out," Julian says. "I
didn't have the time to devote to a relationship. You have to
make decisions. I was running all the time when I should have
been working on a relationship. It's O.K. There's a saying, 'If
you're going to be a runner, your running shoes have to ride
shotgun.' That's me."
The 100th-best long-distance runner in the world last
year--100th in the men's 10,000 with a 28:20.9 finish at the Mt.
SAC Relays, according to the International Track and Field
Annual--has always had a voice. He simply hasn't had a chance to
They all have been waiting to talk. That's the thing. They're
characters on the margins of big-time sport, faceless faces and
unfamiliar names at the back of the pack. No network camera
crews rush to report their every move, record their every
thought. No endorsement dollars fall upon their heads in a
The 100th best.... "There are different ways people come into
this game," the 100th-best golfer says. "Tiger Woods came in one
way. I came in another. For me, it has been a long, slow process."
"I know where I'm going to have to make my contribution in the
beginning," the 100th-best college football player--the 100th
player picked in the 1997 NFL draft--says. "I'm going to be a
backup. I'm going to have to learn. I'm going to have to do it
on special teams."
"You can sense the horses that are going to give you trouble,"
the 100th-best jockey says. "Something is not right as you go to
the post. Sometimes you get through the race. Sometimes you get
thrown. With luck, you get back up. Then, you still might have
three more races to ride. You can say you're not thinking about
going down again, but you have to think about it. Then the next
day, O.K., you forget. You keep going."
"You go to the gym, you spar, you get knocked dizzy--that's a
concussion," the 100th-best heavyweight boxer says. "A lot of
guys don't understand that. They spar again the next day. You
have to sit out a couple of days after a concussion. You have to
let the brain heal."
"You have to look at levels," the 100th-best women's discus
thrower says. "If you can get to the top level, 10 feet separate
the top eight women. What's 10 feet? On one day? One throw?"
The air is suddenly clean. No hype. No public-relations
nonsense. What's it like to be the 100th best at anything? This
is sport on a simpler level. The work is the same work the
champions do, maybe even harder, but the results are less
significant. The days become months, and the months become
years, and sometimes the progress is agonizingly slow.
There are standings and polls and statistics and earnings to
chart performance, because sport is concerned with numbers
(chart, below). The 100th best: There are only 99 people ahead.
There is an entire world behind. What is it like? How do you cut
the necessary minutes and seconds, add the extra inches or feet
that will bring you into the noise, into the bright light? How
do you win more games, turn more heads? Is there a magic move or
a different diet or a different mantra that will bring the
change? Do you keep going, looking? Do you settle for what you
"Are you getting better?" the 100th-best distance runner is asked.
"Oh, yes," Julian says from this forgotten world of excellence.
"I'm better with each experience. I know what to do. I'm not so
nervous anymore. I don't go into the bathroom and heave out my
guts into the tub before I go to a meet. I'm getting there."
THE 100TH BEST Golfer
"The game humbles you," Olin Browne says. "Golf is so precise.
You get arrogant sometimes. You forget. Every time you reach a
level of success.... Four days ago, if four guys in front of me
somehow disappear, I'm the U.S. Open champion. Today I go out,
and I can't lay an egg. I have no rhythm. Nothing. Everything is
flat. I can't think right. A case of the stupids."
This is the first day of the Buick Classic, in Harrison, N.Y.
Browne tees off at 7:33 in the morning and shoots a 77, six over
par. He is pretty much cooked for the tournament. Before the day
is finished he will be 13 shots behind eventual winner Ernie
Els. There is nowhere for Browne to displace his anger, no way
to leave it with his bag and clubs and the caddie, to shift the
blame to someone else. He has to bring the anger back with him
to the locker room at the old Westchester Country Club.
"How'd you putt?" the 100th-leading money winner on the PGA Tour
in 1996 asks another faceless soul, another golfer moving past
him toward the showers.
"S-----," the faceless soul replies.
"Me, too," Browne says.
Like tennis, another individual sport, golf has all kinds of
rankings: by money, by titles won, by computer; for last year,
for this year, for entire careers. The 100th-ranked tennis
players for 1996 were Brett Steven of New Zealand among the men
and Sung-Hee Park of South Korea among the women. Like the
100th-ranked male tennis player, the 100th-ranked male golfer
can make a quite serviceable income. Browne won $223,703 on the
Tour last year. Steven won $189,242. The 100th women earned
considerably less. Park won $92,500; Michelle Dobek, 100th in
the LPGA, won $47,450. In both sports 100th puts you far from
the grand carpet ride.
Browne plays this day in Westchester with Scott Dunlap (No. 124
in 1996) and Omar Uresti (No. 122). No one in the threesome is
under par. The gallery moving from hole to hole with them is
maybe 10 people. Maybe fewer. Tiger Woods is on another part of
the course, surrounded by whoops and groans and attention. "What
if you could take one stroke off each round of golf you played?"
Browne is asked. "Just one stroke."
"Well, I was seventh at the Greater Milwaukee Open last year,
two strokes behind the leader," he says. "If I take one stroke
off every day, I win the tournament by two strokes."
One stroke per round. How much is that? Browne has never won a
PGA Tour event. He is 39 years old and has been on and off the
Tour--going back and forth to the smaller Nike tour, depending
on his fortunes--for eight years. He was late to the game,
starting when he worked at a golf course on Cape Cod during the
summer after his freshman year at Occidental College in Los
Angeles. The next year he made Division III Occidental's golf
team. Since then he pretty much has followed the white ball
wherever he has hit it. His home is in Jupiter, Fla., where his
wife, Pam, is a lawyer. She stays in Jupiter with their two
school-age children, except during the summer. "We have phone
bills that are unbelievable," he says. "Our phone bills every
month could be most people's rent."
The game has become more a mental challenge than a physical
challenge: How to cope. How to keep going. By now his swing
pretty much is his swing. The mind is the controlling factor.
The first trick is to handle the bad days as well as possible,
to keep damage to a minimum, to survive. The second trick is to
ride the good days when they arrive, to be ready for the moments
when the cup becomes as large as a manhole, when all putts
become makable. The third trick is to keep from going crazy
waiting for the good days.
There seems to be so much luck involved, bad shots that bounce
right, good shots that bounce wrong, putts that lip out or--wait
a minute--drop at the last moment. Sometimes the ball sits in a
patch of high grass, just off the green, and all a man can do is
guess how to hit it. Sometimes the guess will make him a genius.
Sometimes he will look as if he knows nothing. The one shot may
determine the entire day. One shot. Luck? Skill? What?
"Everybody out here has an Achilles' heel, something he doesn't
do right," Browne says. "Say there are five things, five
qualities, a golfer has to have. Most guys have maybe three.
Some, four. Some, two. There are guys who have a great long game
but not a great short game. Guys who can putt, guys who can't
putt. Guys who are great ball strikers but are just stupid.
"Maybe Tiger Woods or Greg Norman or Tom Lehman has all five
qualities. But the rest of us are out there trying to cover up
our weaknesses, work around them. It's the guy who can do
that--who can superimpose his will on the day--who will be
around at the end."
How many of those five qualities does Browne have?
"That's what I'm still trying to figure out," he says. He has
wondered sometimes about his will, wondered if he has the grit
to stand up to the pressure and win an event, but his
fifth-place U.S. Open finish at the Congressional Country Club
in Bethesda, Md., in June made him feel a lot better about that.
Playing on the toughest golf course he had ever seen, playing
against the toughest field he had ever seen, he was part of the
show on the final day. Tied for fifth, six strokes back. This
was grit. This was what he could do.
"Then I come out here," he says. "Nothing. I just wanted to get
it over with. It was the longest day. I started bogey, par,
bogey, bogey and went from there. Double bogey on the back. Hit
under a tree and had to take an unplayable lie. Just a long day."
He kicks himself inwardly, the way all golfers at every level
kick themselves. Whose mistakes? His mistakes. Whose fault? His
fault. He puts his golf shoes inside his locker and closes the
door. The anger, the frustration, are still with him.
What next? Will he hit a billion balls in the afternoon? That is
one traditional way to cope--to hit balls until your hands are
sore. Not today. Browne will find a more gentle path. "This
afternoon I'm going to have lunch," he says, "and then I'm going
to the movies."
THE 100TH BEST College Football Player
Henri Crockett's brother had warned him not to get too excited
about the first day of the NFL draft. His brother had told him,
in fact, that the first day of the draft would be one of the
longest, most troubling days of his life. This was good advice.
Henri is glad he listened. "There'd been all this talk about me
going in the first round," he says. "Top of the second round at
worst. Well, that's what it was: all this talk."
The first day came and went. Crockett was still available. He
wouldn't have thrown a draft-day party for himself, because he's
not a party guy, not a late-night guy, but it was still good
that he hadn't believed all the happy predictions. He wasn't
chosen until the second day: fourth round, fourth pick, the
Atlanta Falcons. The 100th player selected.
"I understand," Crockett says after practice during a minicamp
at the Falcons' complex in Suwanee, Ga. "I started only my
senior year at Florida State. If I'd started four years, the
draft probably would have been different."
It's murky, this 100th-best business, in the team sports. How do
you determine who is the 100th-best baseball player, football
player, basketball player? Do you use batting average
(outfielder Devon White, Florida Marlins, .274 in 1996) or
scoring average (guard Travis Best, Indiana Pacers, 9.9 in the
1996-97 NBA season) or rebounding (forward Michael Cage,
Philadelphia 76ers, and guard Hersey Hawkins, Seattle
SuperSonics, tied at 3.9)?
The one true rating in a professional team-sport career comes at
the beginning, when the player walks through the front door: the
draft. He goes from there to find his place. If he rises to
become the 100th-best player in some general manager's
estimation, well, the payoff can be terrific. The 100th-best
salary in the NBA last season belonged to Pooh Richardson, the
Los Angeles Clippers guard. He made $2,664,000.
"There's a lot of stuff to learn, and they throw new stuff at
you every day," says Crockett. "I'm the only rookie linebacker,
so I'm the one who's catching up all the time." He has a solid
linebacker's build, 6'2", 243 pounds, a broad chest. Weight was
a problem in the past, but preparing for his shot at starting
last year at Florida State, he cut out beef and pork from his
diet and dropped from 255 to 235.
He wants this football job, this football life. He remembers
when he didn't like the game, when he left practice in high
school in Pompano Beach, Fla., and was going to quit. His
brother, Zack, now the Indianapolis Colts fullback, talked him
out of it. It was an important moment. Football has given Henri
a path to follow, a path that has led here to Suwanee.
"It wasn't a good neighborhood, our neighborhood in Pompano," he
says. "In fact, it's so bad that the plan right now is to tear
everything down. Just wipe it out. From our entire neighborhood,
the only two people who ever graduated from college were Zack
and me. There is a girl now, Kathryn Burgess, who's a senior at
Auburn. She'll be the third. That's it.
"Our mother is the only reason Zack and I made it. She was very
strict. There was an elementary school right across the street,
but she wouldn't let us go there. We had to walk two miles every
day to another school because my mother didn't like what she saw
at the school across the street. She wouldn't even let us go in
the school playground. There was a pole in front of our house.
That was the boundary. We couldn't go past the pole.
"She's a small woman, but she's fierce. She threw Zack up
against the trophy cabinet once. I said, 'Whoa.' Education was
everything to her. If I was absolutely perfect, did everything
absolutely right, no trouble, never, I still was assured of four
whippings a year. That was the four times report cards came out.
She was waiting."
On the Falcons' depth chart he is listed third behind veteran
Jessie Tuggle at middle linebacker. Crockett calls Tuggle "the
silent killer" and follows everything he and the other veterans
do. They make Crockett perform rookie chores--setting up the
screen for film sessions, turning out the lights when the film
begins, menial stuff--but that's no problem. He wants to learn,
wants to learn in a hurry. He says he knows there is greatness
inside him. He'll do anything to let it out.
The fourth pick in the fourth round of the NFL draft is assured
of nothing. Fourth rounders have become stars. Fourth rounders
have been pumping gas by the time the first game of the regular
season has begun.
"It's like this old football player told me out in California,"
Crockett says. "This famous guy. What's his name? The greatest
defensive end of all time. Played for the Rams."
"Right, Deacon Jones. He told me he always thought his job was
to hit somebody once every 30 seconds, maybe twice. That's my
job too. I got some publicity before the Sugar Bowl this year
when I said I was going to try to hurt [Florida quarterback]
Danny Wuerffel. It was like I said something wrong. Well, that
was my job. Danny Wuerffel was going to try to throw touchdown
passes past me. That was his job. If he was to come up to me and
say, 'Henri, I'm not going to try to throw touchdown passes past
you,' then I'd say, 'Danny, then I'm not going to try to hurt
you.' But that just isn't the way it works." Crockett laughs.
There's a little irony in this. Wuerffel won the 1996 Heisman
Trophy as the outstanding player in college football. Draft day
arrived. Wuerffel was drafted 99th, by the New Orleans Saints,
third pick in the fourth round. One ahead of Crockett.
How do you rate players in a team game?
THE 100TH BEST Jockey
It's 11 o'clock. Post time for the first race is an hour and a
half away, but Jose Rivera already has done a lot of work at
Calder Race Course in Miami. He was up at 5, on the track at 6,
galloping his first horse. There was another horse at 6:30,
another at 7, another at 7:30. The galloping was followed by
conversations with owners, trainers, agents. Networking, the
outside world would call it.
There was a time when Rivera didn't think networking was
necessary, when he thought the only important time in racing was
the afternoon, when the crowd appeared and the bugle call was
sounded and he wore the silks and rode high on the back of some
thoroughbred, asking the horse for more, more, more. He was a
young man then. "I would say, 'This horse only runs for me, only
knows me,'" Rivera, now 36, says. "Then one day I was sick. This
little girl rode the same horse and just killed the field."
The most important thing about riding a racehorse is getting the
opportunity to ride it in the first place. That's the lesson
that comes with experience. Performance is important, but good
grooming and halfway snappy patter also count. For a jockey,
life is a perpetual job interview.
"I was so young when I started," Rivera says. "I came from
Puerto Rico. I was 4'10", weighed 80 pounds. I didn't weigh
enough to be a jockey. I'd eat everything and not gain a pound.
I went to doctors for vitamins. It took me so long to win my
first race that I told everyone I was going to retire once I won
it. Just have the picture taken, me on the horse, and quit.
"I didn't know anything. I had gone to school only through the
sixth grade. I wouldn't show up to gallop horses in the morning,
didn't think I had to do it. I wouldn't talk with the trainers
after the race. I couldn't talk, because I didn't speak English.
I had bad agents. Everything. Just everything."
He understands now. He is married and has three children. He
speaks fine, accented English. This, he hopes, is the middle of
his career, the heart of his working life. He is a professional.
That's the way he thinks of himself. He does the things that
have to be done, shakes the hands that have to be shaken. He
He rode 1,187 mounts last year, finishing first 142 times. That
put him 100th in the national jockey standings, far behind No. 1
Russell Baze, in California, who won 415 times in 1,465 races.
For Rivera there were no grand trips to the Kentucky Derby, the
Preakness. The 100th-best jockey rode four, five and six horses
a day on the tough Florida tracks. He did business. He was fifth
in the Calder jockey standings.
"If you can ride here, you can ride anywhere," he says. "You see
guys who don't do anything here, then go to California or New
York and do well. It's competitive here. There are always new
riders coming along. South America is so close, and its jockeys
can make money here. The leading rider in Peru makes $10,000. He
can come here and make $200,000."
Five years ago Rivera was frustrated by a lack of mounts and
left Florida to make money, taking his family to Riyadh, Saudi
Arabia. Memories of the Gulf War were strong, and U.S. jockeys
were nervous about going to the Middle East. Rivera decided to
take a chance. He rode for members of the royal family and was
second in the Saudi Arabian jockey standings. He became
something of a celebrity, was welcomed because, he says, "I look
like an Arab anyway." He rode stakes champions all the time. He
was in demand. He got a glimpse of what life at the top of the
ladder was like, but the ladder was in the wrong place. He came
home after eight months.
"It's another society, another way of life," he says of Saudi
Arabia. "I liked it all right, but I'd rather make $100,000 here
than $200,000 there. Understand me? It's worth the $100,000 to
He thinks sometimes about riding in New York, where a jockey in
the U.S. can make the biggest money, but he doesn't know. He
doesn't like the cold. He is looking for a new house in Florida.
His kids are growing. His wife, Melly, likes it here. He likes
it. He's mature now--5'4", 112 pounds, thank you very much.
Sometimes he even has to lose a pound.
There's a chance, anyway, that good fortune might visit Rivera
at any time. That's part of the sport. The phone might ring. A
trainer might bring along a 2-year-old bullet. An older horse
might change his ways and become a champion. Magic could happen.
Rivera could stay here and wind up riding a favorite in the
Kentucky Derby. "That," he says, "would be like winning Lotto."
He thought he had a great horse recently, a sprinter. The horse
had won five in a row. Then the sixth race, nothing. The horse
finished out of the money. "What was the name of that good
sprinter I had?" Rivera asks in the jockeys' room.
"Bet the Side," another jockey says.
"Bet the Side," Rivera repeats. "Five in a row. The sixth race,
never a chance."
"Ah, it's hard, especially with sprinters," the other jockey
says. "The race is so short, if anything happens, you're done.
And when they win a few, they start getting weight added. Bigger
races. Tougher competition. It's hard."
Rivera nods. It's hard.
THE 100TH BEST Heavyweight
James Warring fell asleep in his hotel room in Salemi, Sicily,
three hours before he was to fight James Pritchard for the
International Boxing Federation cruiserweight title in September
1991. This was unusual enough, being able to sleep so close to
the fight. The dream Warring had was more unusual.
"A figure came out of a black hole," he says, describing the
dream. "The figure was dressed all in white, with a hood. His
head was turned, so all I could see was the hood. He came toward
me, carrying the championship belt. I put out my hands, and he
handed me the belt. Then he started to walk away. I said, 'Wait,
who are you? Let me see your face.' He turned. And he had no
face! His face was blank!"
Warring remembers that he awoke and decided, well, he decided
the figure was God. God was telling him something.
At the time Warring had fought only 11 fights--10 wins and a
loss. Everyone thought Pritchard, the champion, would win.
Everyone except Warring. And maybe God. Warring's friends and
handlers kept remarking on how big Pritchard was in the films,
how muscular, sculpted. Warring kept noticing how slow Pritchard
was. There was a certain look in Pritchard's eyes too. Warring
thought the look was fear. He decided that Pritchard fought in
The fight began. Warring threw a jab. Warring threw a left hook.
Warring threw a right hand. Pritchard fell to the canvas, just
like that. Gone. The entire process took 24 seconds, faster at
the time than any championship fight on record. Warring
remembers looking at Pritchard on the canvas and hearing the
crowd roar and being lifted off his feet and thinking that none
of this was real. IBF cruiserweight champion of the world. "This
was a gift from God," Warring says about his best athletic
accomplishment. "That's all I can think."
He sits behind a desk in the office of his business, Warring's
World Champion Kickboxing Academy Inc., which is located on the
outskirts of Miami in a small strip mall that also includes a
heavy-equipment rental store and a Pentecostal church. His wife,
Jean, is leading a class in the next room, the gym; little kids
in kickboxing outfits bow and shout and then kick imaginary
villains into submission. James is tall and lean, 6'4", 225
pounds. He is in great shape for someone 39 years old.
It would figure that the 100th-ranked heavyweight boxer would
have won a title at some time, because boxing has more titles
and ranking systems than any sport this side of Vince McMahon.
Warring's ranking comes from Independent World Boxing Rankings,
an outfit in Bristol, England, that rates boxers according to
some kind of computer format. Warring never heard of the firm.
His boxing record is 17-4-1 with 10 knockouts. Only his last six
bouts have been as a heavyweight, after he could no longer make
the 190-pound cruiserweight limit. His last fight was in May, a
10-round loss to onetime phenom Alex Stewart.
"I might even be retired as a boxer," Warring says. "I don't
know what I'm going to do. We'll see what happens." He has an
entrepreneur's flamboyance, a salesmanship he has used to create
a one-man athletic enterprise. Besides the IBF title, he won the
cruiserweight championship of the smaller North American Boxing
Federation, in 1990; four world kickboxing titles in the 1980s;
and three tough-man competitions. He was also a Division II
All-America wide receiver, at Eastern Illinois in 1978. He takes
his Kodak All-America certificate down from the wall as proof.
"That's what I thought I was going to be, a pro football
player," he says. "I went to camp with the Oakland Raiders. I
thought I was doing great, catching everything in sight. Two
days before the first exhibition game, Tom Flores, the coach,
called me into his office. He said, 'Warring, you're just not
fast enough.' Just like that. I was shocked."
He had been kickboxing since he was a kid in the Richmond
Heights section of Miami, so he turned to that, winning the four
world titles, putting together a record of 30-1-1. The tough-man
competitions came along on the side, and he found they were
easy, dealing with big barroom bouncers and other brutes who
really didn't know how to fight. The boxing career, which didn't
begin until he was 28 years old, came from training for
kickboxing. In the gym Warring would spar against boxers like
Trevor Berbick and Razor Ruddock, well-known ring names, and
have success. People said he should try boxing. Why not? It
seemed easy, easier than kickboxing. You only had to worry about
a man's hands. Boxing also was where the money seemed to be. He
still wonders why he never got much.
"You know what I should have done?" he says. "I should have
signed on with Don King. That way I would have made some money."
"Oh, he might have ripped me off," Warring says. "But if he
ripped me off for a million, I still would have kept a million.
Don King's created more millionaires in this game than anyone."
Warring made $10,000 for winning the IBF cruiserweight title. He
says he never told anyone this, he was too embarrassed. Take
away the taxes, the manager's and trainer's shares, the
expenses, and what did he wind up with? Virtually nothing.
"Here's what I made as cruiserweight champion," he continues,
taking out a calculator, clicking in each figure. "I made
$10,000 to win the title, right? I made $65,000 to defend the
first time, then $75,000 the next time, then $75,000 when I lost
the title to Alfred Cole in Stanhope, N.J., in 1992. That's
[final clicks] $225,000, total. Gross."
He tells of trouble with his manager, of money that seemed to be
missing. He tells of the loss to Cole, a defeat that, he
thought, almost seemed choreographed. "An official from the
state commission comes into my dressing room just before the
fight and tells me not to clutch or grab, that a point will be
taken off each time I clutch or grab," Warring says. "What's
that about? I see Tyson and Holyfield clutch and grab. What he
was telling me was that I needed a knockout to win. That was the
He says again that he might be through with boxing. He
concentrates on his gym, on giving lessons in kickboxing,
boxing, whatever people want. There's this fad now, aerobic
boxing. He teaches stockbrokers and housewives how to throw a
good jab. His days are scheduled, morning until night. To keep a
door open to professional fighting--he might go back to
kickboxing, too, because he can still get bouts--he still
follows his own program. He runs daily. He spars three or four
times a week.
"This is the thing with boxing," Warring says. "It's always been
hard for me to get fights, because they say I'm an awkward
fighter, plus I'm in shape. People don't want to fight me. It's
almost better for me to be quiet now. I've lost a couple of
fights, I'm 39, going to be 40. Maybe now I'm a fighter they
want to fight. Maybe this is when I get the big fight, maybe
fight for a heavyweight championship." The absurdity of the
situation is obvious.
"I fight for the heavyweight championship," James Warring says
with fine optimism. "And maybe I shock the world."
THE 100TH BEST Women's Discus Thrower
This is a pep talk. This is instruction. These are the words of
a teacher. "The field events couldn't be invented today," Brooks
Johnson, a veteran track and field coach now working for Walt
Disney's Wide World of Sports in Orlando, says. "They wouldn't
be politically correct. You have to realize that all the tools
in these events are implements of war. That was how the events
began, as competition between soldiers. The javelin. The shot.
The 35-pound weight. All weapons. The pole vault. The idea of
the pole vault was that I vault over the wall and go up behind
you and slit your throat." Erica Ahmann, the student, nods.
"You have to act like these are implements of war," Johnson
continues. "When you have that discus in your hand, you have to
have that kind of mind. You have to say 'S---!' when you let go.
You're trying to kill someone. That is how you have to feel."
Ahmann nods again.
Johnson is a small and trim black man who has coached numerous
Olympians. Ahmann is his discus protegee, a large,
whiter-than-white woman, 6'2", 220 pounds, with blond hair that
is itself almost white. They sit in the sun in the stands at the
Indianapolis track during the same meet, the U.S. Championships,
at which Peter Julian will finish third in the 10,000.
A number of 100th bests are at these championships. There's a
young guy from Alexandria, Va., named Elgin Gordon, the world's
100th-fastest human, who is eliminated in the preliminary trials
for the 100-meter dash. There is Karen Hecox-Candaele of West
Covina, Calif., 100th best in the women's 1,500 meters, who
qualifies for the final in the ninth of 12 spots. There is
Ahmann, 100th best in the world at throwing the women's
2.2-pound metal saucer.
"I want to do this," she says. "I love the discus. My dad was a
discus thrower too. He's 6'8". My mom is 6'1". We're a big
family. I've been throwing the discus since junior high, playing
all sports, really. I just want to see how good I can be."
She's 23 years old. She was raised on a cattle ranch in Napa,
Calif., and earned a degree in agricultural engineering from Cal
Poly-San Luis Obispo last year. She lives in Orlando, having
moved across the country to work with Johnson, who was her
college coach. Her discus throw of 186'6 1/2", the 100th best in
the world in 1996, was nowhere near those of the leaders but was
good enough to make her think about a future in the event. Don't
discus throwers mature late?
She says she went with her parents to the Olympics in Atlanta
last summer simply to watch the throwers, the big European women
at the top. She saw that none of them are much bigger than she
is. She saw that they are human. She decided to commit four
years of her life to catching them.
"I tell her it's unfinished business," Johnson says. "She
already has her union card for life--her college degree--so
she'll be fine. Now she can find out how good she can be in this
sport. It's her chance. If she doesn't take it now, she never
Ahmann and Johnson detail their plan. They have brought her back
to the fundamentals of the sport. She has stopped lifting
weights and has lost definition and bulk. All of her work is on
technique, on developing the swing, the motion, to hurl this
implement of war through the air. She will stay away from
weights for as much as a year. Strength was her easy way out,
allowing her to overcome mechanical faults. She will learn how
to throw properly for the first time. Then she will go back to
the weights and add strength to proper mechanics. The
improvement, she and Johnson hope, will be dramatic.
"We're going to do this the right way," Johnson says. "No drugs.
That's where the challenge is. She has great size, great
competitiveness. Things that people who take drugs are trying to
get, she has naturally. We're going to build on that."
The words are different, yet so familiar: The commitment. The
intensity. The perseverance. What does it take to tear yourself
down, to rebuild yourself, to believe so strongly in what you
are doing? How hard must it be, alone, to maintain these
How many of these people are out there? How many 100th bests,
working like this? The 100th-best 100-meter swimmer. The
100th-best figure skater. The 100th-best professional bowler,
NASCAR driver, powerlifter, dart thrower, youth hockey player,
gymnast, badminton player, skier, soccer goalie, platform diver.
All this energy. All this work toward an impossible standard of
perfection. All this athletic life.
"The problem in our country--especially with women--is that our
expectation levels often are much too low," Johnson says. "If
expectation levels are infinitely less than the top, then
performance levels are infinitely less. We're looking to exceed
the greatest expectations, to crash through the glass ceiling.
There is more here in the tank. We're going to get it out."
The next day Ahmann finishes 11th, next to last, in the finals
of the women's discus. Nobody notices. It is part of the
process, part of the growth, reality, struggle. Truth.
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES JOSE RIVERA: 100th-Best Jockey
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTO RUN PETER JULIAN: 100th-Best Long-Distance Runner
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER OLIN BROWNE: 100th-Best Golfer
COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN SMITH HENRI CROCKETT: 100th-Best College Football Player
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES ERICA AHMANN: 100th-Best Women's Discus Thrower
B/W PHOTO: COURTESY OF CEDRIC KUSHNER PROMO JAMES WARRING: 100th-Best Heavyweight
COLOR PHOTO: CHRIS ANDERSON/AURORA "I hear commentators say that no long-distance runner in the U.S. wants to work," Julian says. "Well, I work. I do the miles." [Peter Julian with pile of running shoes]
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER "Most of us are trying to cover up our weaknesses," Browne says. "The guy who can do that will be around at the end." [Olin Browne lying on golf bag]
COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN SMITH "I'm going to be a backup," Crockett says. "I'm going to have to learn. I'm going to have to make my contribution on special teams." [Henri Crockett]
COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN SMITH "It took me so long to win my first race," Rivera says, "that I told everyone I was going to retire once I won it." [Jose Rivera surrounded by jockeys' uniforms]
COLOR PHOTO: BRIAN SMITH "You know what I should have done?" Warring says. "Signed with Don King. That way I would have made some money." [James Warring]
COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES "At the top level, 10 feet separate the top eight women," says Ahmann. "What's 10 feet? On one day? One throw?" [Erica Ahmann throwing discus]
A HUNDRED TO ONE
The difference between the 100th and the top ranking can be as
little as .7 of a second and as much as 5,300% in income. Here
are the athletes rated No. 100 and No. 1 in 1996 in various
sports and events, with details of accomplishments or earnings.
Sport/Event No. 100 No. 1
Field/Men's Brett Sullivan Randy Barnes
Shot Put Best throw: 73.26
Field/Women's Huang Jianfen Jackie Joyner-Kersee
Long Jump Best jump: 23.76
Pro Bowling/ Kelly Coffman Walter Ray Williams Jr.
Men Winnings: $18,635 $244,630
Pro Bowling/ Sue Peterson Wendy Macpherson
Women Winnings: $2,005 $107,230
Swimming/Men's Kazunobu Tajima Alexander Popov
100 Freestyle Best time: 51.25 48.74
Women's Xin Ning Michelle Smith
400 Individual Best time: 4:56.83 4:39.18
Tennis/Men Brett Steven Pete Sampras
Winnings: $189,242 $3,702,919
Tennis/Women Sung-Hee Park Steffi Graf
Winnings: $62,901 $2,664,178
Track/Men's Mwenze Kalombo Martin Fiz
Marathon Best time: 2:12.26 2:08.25
Track/Women's Juliet Campbell Merlene Ottey
100 Meters TaNisha Mills 10.74
Best time: 11.44