Spectacular track stars
Track and field, beloved in Europe but often overlooked in the United States, got a tremendous lift from one of the most unforgettable nights in America's Olympic participation in the sport. Two stars shone especially bright July 29 in Atlanta's Olympic Stadium, Michael Johnson and Carl Lewis.
Johnson, with a see-you-later victory in the 400 meters - the event which he most dominates - put his claim on his first individual gold medal and what many expect to be Part 1 of a history-making "double" - wins in the 400 and 200. (Only one runner, American Valerie Brisco-Hooks has ever won golds at both distances, and she did so in the 1984 Los Angeles Games, when many top runners were part of an East bloc boycott.)
Lewis's victory in the long jump brought him his ninth gold medal. It was spectacular also because it occurred 12 years and three Olympics after he first won that event at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. There he equalled Jesse Owens's feat, in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, of winning four golds in one Games, in the 100, 200, long jump, and 4-by-100 relay. Lewis failed to make the team this year as a sprinter, but earned the long jump spot that allowed him to defend the title he has held since '84. With a winning jump of 27 ft., 10-3/4 in., his longest jump in two years, Lewis seemed to amaze himself, although he is known for his supreme confidence.
Fellow American Allen Johnson (no relation to Michael) also struck gold in the men's 110-meter hurdles, winning in an Olympic record time of 12.95 seconds.
A gold for Shannon Miller
Gymnast Shannon Miller does not have Mary Lou Retton's toothpaste smile or extroverted nature, but in her own steady way she leaves Atlanta's Centennial Games right up there with Retton, the 1984 Olympic all-around champion, as a pillar of American gymnastics.
On July 29 she collected her first individual gold medal of these Olympics, in the balance beam, after earlier being the top scorer on the first American women's squad to triumph in the team competition.
She took the beam, perhaps the most exacting of all gymnastic disciplines, with what she described as "one of the best routines I've ever done," edging all-around champion Lilia Podkopayeva of Ukraine.
Miller has won more medals than any other American gymnast. In 1992 at Barcelona, a smaller Miller won five medals, then won the world all-around title in 1993 and 1994, only to see wunderkind Dominique Moceanu come along to capture much of the US gymnastics spotlight.
Koss without skates
The biggest star of the 1994 Winter Olympics, Norwegian speed skater Johann Olav Koss, is continuing the humanitarian work he started as part of the Lillehammer Games. He now represents Olympic Aid-Atlanta 1996, a joint project of UNICEF and the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games that helps to serve children in need in 14 war-torn countries. One day last week, unrecognized by reporters with summer sports on their minds, Koss made his way around Atlanta's Olympic press center distributing a press release, regrettably announcing an end to a truce in Afghanistan. Here was an Olympic hero, still living up to his high ideals, without seeking any personal attention.