'Carl Lewis Show' takes Olympic center stage
Just as the first week of Olympic competition ended here, the long-awaited Carl Lewis show began. The curtain-raiser was a beauty too, with Lewis triumphing easily in the 100-meter dash to secure the first of an expected four track and field gold medals.
Before the race, Sam Graddy spoke of being able to beat his heralded teammate , but like everyone else, Sam got a good look at Carl's flying heels. In this shortest of all Olympic races, Graddy finished a distant second, several yards behind, with Canada's Ben Johnson taking third.
Though Lewis didn't set any records with his 9.9 clocking, he gave the US its first Olympic sprint champion since Jim Hines set the world mark in 1968.
Assuming his safe passage through the prelims, the other installments of the Lewis watch occur during finals for the long jump today, the 200 on Wednesday, and the 4 x 100-meter relay on Saturday.
While the centerpiece of the early track and field action, Lewis was not the only person mounting the victory stand. Athletes from a nice cross-section of countries emerged with gold, including Mexico's Ernesto Canto in the 20 kilometer walk, West Germany's Claudia Losch in the women's shot put, and Australia's Glynis Nunn in the heptathlon.
Nunn was the totally unexpected winner of the latter event, a seven-stage competition similar to the men's decathlon. She turned in personal bests across the board - in the 100 meter hurdles, shot put, 200 meters, high jump, long jump , javelin, and 800 meters. American Jackie Joyner, a pre-Olympic favorite, needed only to finish reasonably well in the 800 to wrap up the gold, but faded badly with a heavily wrapped leg and wound up with the silver.
Joyner's brother, Al, put the family on the gold standard, though, by winning the triple jump ahead of US teammate Mike Conley who got the silver.
At the same time a busy track schedule was kicking off at the Coliseum, action in other sports was ending or winding down.
Swimming concluded just the way it had started, with the United States winning a gold medal, this time when Rick Carey, Steve Lundquist, Pablo Morales, and Rowdy Gaines set a world record in the 400 medley relay.
As they celebrated on the pool deck, Lundquist spotted a TV camera and unfolded a towel that carried the message ''America thank you for a dream come true.'' It was a nice way of tying a ribbon on a big week for US swimmers. Altogether they captured 21 of a possible 29 golds, equaling the previous high set at Mexico City in 1968.
The fact that Eastern Bloc competitors, especially the East German women, were not on hand didn't seem to detract from the stars and stripes euphoria. ABC's extensive, pro-American coverage of this pool party, however, caused the International Olympic Committee to voice its concern. ABC seemed to appease the IOC by explaining that its international feed was distinct from the rah-rah one American viewers were seeing.
Actually, as people discovered, it was rather refreshing when a swimmer interrupted the unabashed US nationalism, as happened on several occasions.
Canadians Alex Baumann, Victor Davis, and Anne Ottenbrite, for example, gave their country its first swimming gold medals in 72 years. Holland's Petra Van Staveren took the women's 100-meter breastroke. Etienne Dagon grabbed a bronze in the men's 200-meter breaststroke for Switzerland's first-ever medal in the sport, and Venzueala's Rafael Vidal followed suit in the men's 200 butterfly.
As anticipated, West Germany's Michael Gross made waves by setting a pair of world records, but teammate Thomas Fahrner achieved a more unusual distinction. After failing to make the final eight-man field in the 400-meter freestyle, he turned around and swam a new Olympic record in the consolation round, something initiated this year. His time was better than that of gold medalist George DiCarlo, who has no plans of halving his reward.
Australia's 17-year-old Jon Sieben produced what some were calling swimming's biggest upset ever, improving his personal best time by a whopping four seconds to halt Gross's bid for a third gold medal and win the 200-meter butterfly with a new world record. Gross was one of six swimmers who earned two individual golds - the others being Bauman, US backstroker Rick Carey, and American women Tracy Caulkins, Mary T. Meagher, and Tiffany Cohen.
At UCLA's Pauley Pavilion, chauffeur-driven celebrities turned out to watch a dazzling gymnastics competition. Tickets were at such a premium, one poor fan wore a sign that read: ''Help fight scalping. Sell me a reasonably priced ticket.''
Considering the dazzling show inside, it was easy to see why stars and starlets sallied forth to watch American Mary Lou Retton win the women's all-around title and Japan's Koji Gushiken the men's.
Gushiken, a 27-year-old veteran who had stuck it out after Japan's 1980 Olympic boycott, scored nothing lower than 9.9 in edging American Peter Vidmar, whose silver was the first-ever for an American all-around medal.
Retton won her gold in a battle with Romania's Ecaterina Szabo, a former pupil of Mary Lou's coach, Bela Karolyi. After two events Szabo held the lead, but Retton then uncorked perfect 10s in floor exercise and the vault to win by 5 /100ths of a point.
The Romanian women had earlier won the gymnastics team competition, and their counterparts in rowing looked equally strong on Lake Casitas near Santa Barbara. Only a narrow victory by the US in the eight-woman race prevented a sweep by the Romanians.
The Chinese continued to make their presence felt too. They cleaned up in the lighter weightlifing divisions, and their shooters, beneficiaries of Mao's widespread instructional program in the 1960s, grabbed a handful of hardware on the target ranges.
Of course, the host Americans were flexing their muscles as well. The men's and women's basketball and volleyball teams were all undefeated as of Sunday. The scores haven't even been close in basketball, with Bobby Knight's men's squad looking awesome in outscoring the opposition 511-315 in five games.
The US also demonstrated new-found strength in cycling, where it has won eight medals to end a drought dating back to 1912. The latest highlight of this team effort was the 1-2 finish of teammates Mark Gorski and Nelson Vails, a former bicycle messenger from Harlem, in the 1,000-meter sprint.
Even American Greco-Roman wrestlers managed to nail down a pair of golds, an incredible feat for a country that had never even won a bronze until now. Steve Fraser broke the ice in the 198-lb. class, and then Jeff Blatnick, the biggest man on the US team at 248 pounds, came through not only with a startling win but with one of the most heart-wrenching aftermaths in all of these Los Angeles Games. Remembering his battle to overcome a physical challenge two years ago, Blatnick proclaimed, ''I'm a happy dude,'' as tears streamed down his face.