Thursday, July 18, 1996
Sprinter euphoria is in the air
By Jim O'Leary
At the Olympics
ATLANTA -- On the Lucifer Channel, sometimes called the Georgia weather network, the longrange forecast indicates local temperatures will remain in the mid-90s with a humidity level high enough to make a fish uncomfortable.
Naturally, such conditions will take a toll. We're told to watch out for heat stroke, fainting, sunburn, dehydration and, of course, sprinter euphoria.
There is no remedy when sprinter euphoria breaks out. The symptoms: fast athletes develop wide smiles, management at the Guiness Book of World Records place editors on red alert and wily track fans become afraid to blink.The condition has to be left alone to run its course.
That'll happen on July 26 and 27 during the men's 100-metre event at Olympic Stadium, where trackside temperatures regularly exceed 100 degrees. Some like it hot, it has been said, but none like it hotter than the world's fastest men. And so it is that Canadian sprinter Bruny Surin and coach Andy McInnis, wearing that tell-tale smile, predict the world record will be shattered.
"We're going into sprinter euphoria,'' said McInnis. "We have high heat and humidity, a barely legal Mondo track and the best sprinters in the world all ready to peak for the Olympic final. We can also probably expect one of those glorious southern nights, which means legal winds.''
Add it all up and what might you get? Everyone in the final crossing the line in under 10 seconds, possibly two runners bettering the current world record of 9.85 and the winner flirting with -- dare we suggest it? -- the 9.79 time clocked by Ben Johnson in Seoul eight years ago. Yes, given ideal conditions, these guys are that fast, said McInnis.
"I wouldn't be surprised if two guys go 9.8,'' said Surin. "Just look at the times already this year. It's an Olympic year and everybody is very focussed.''.
There has never been a legal 100-metre race in which the entire eight-man field bettered 10 seconds. Under similar hot conditions on a similar Mondo track at the 1991 world championships in Tokyo, six runners broke the 10-second barrier. In Seoul in 1988, four of them did it and one of them was disqualified.
"We've never had such a balanced field from one to 10,'' McInnis said. "It's going to drive the Vegas odds-makers nuts. I'd expect everyone (in the final) to be under 10 seconds unless the last-place guy pulls up with an injury.''
McInnis is being so bold because the Olympic track is a brand new, state-of-the-art surface that he says has been carefully honed to produce fast times. To be considered legal, a track has to have a resiliency rating above 35. McInnis says the Atlanta track scores 35.1. The American organizers understand the television appeal of speed and power and what the lure of a world record can do to ratings
"The track has been fine tuned, just like the Tokyo track was fine tuned,'' McInnis said.
But it's not just the track. Over the past decade, heated by the 1980s rivallry of Carl Lewis and Ben Johnson and the economic boom it initiated, sprinting has become a fulltime, scientific profession. There has never been so many fast runners, each capable of pushing the other to shave precious tenths of seconds off their previous best times.
In 1988, Johnson's steroid-aided mark of 9.79 seemed unassailable. But now McInnis believes it is concievable that the world record of 9.85 could fall next weekend in a semi-final, and then be broken again in the final hours later.
McInnis naturally lists Donovan Bailey and Surin, 1-2 last year at the World Championships, as sprinters likely to succeed. But Frankie Frederiks of Nimibia has been the fastest sprinter in the world this year, although he has talked about skipping the 100 metre dogfight to go head to head with American Michael Johnson in the 200 metres. Veterans Dennis Mitchell and Linford Christie round out McInnis's top five.
"What Donovan and Bruny have going for them is that they're fighters,'' McInnis said. "They are tenacious competitors, money runners, who are best when everything is on the line.''
They've also been showing the early symptoms of sprinter euphoria. They like the heat almost as much as they like their chances.
Jim O'Leary is Executive Producer of SLAM! Sports (www.canoe.ca/slam)