OLYMPICS / Barcelona 1992: Athletics: Crowning glory for Lewis in relay

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FINALLY, the Games and the world witnessed it: Carl Lewis in full flow.

Having failed to qualify for the individual 100 metres, the world champion and world record holder concentrated his sprinting energies on the 4 x 100m relay and produced a last leg run that brought the United States home in a prodigious new world record of 37.40sec, a full 10th of a second inside the mark they had set at last year's world championships in Tokyo.

And on a night when Britain added three bronze medals to their collected metalware through both sets of 4 x 400 metres relay teams and the brave, diminished figure of Steve Backley in the javelin, the Americans rounded matters off with another world record in the 400m relay, expunging the mark of 2min 56.16sec their quartet set 24 years ago in the thin air of Mexico City.

The American quartet of Mike Marsh, the 200m gold medallist, Leroy Burrell, Dennis Mitchell and Lewis was a truly formidable proposition. Britain had hopes of getting something from the final, and had experimented with the order of their running. Marcus Adam, who has been intermittently troubled with a knee injury, started, handing over to Tony Jarrett. Next came John Regis, and then Linford Christie.

Lewis received the baton from Mitchell, who opened his arms wide, and screamed 'Go] Go]'. Lewis went. At the changeover point he was perhaps a metre ahead of the other contending runners - Jorge Aguilera of Cuba, Davidson Ezinwa of Nigeria, and the individual gold medallist, Christie. Considerably less than 10 seconds later, the contenders had become attenders. Lewis was six metres clear, his outstretched palms pumping up virtually to his ears, running on the same track to the others but on a completely different plane.

As he went through the line to collect his eighth Olympic gold medal he looked across at the clock just behind the finish and his arms flew up in acclamation. It took him the best part of 20 metres to slow down. If Lewis felt he had a point to prove about who was the best sprinter in the world, this was a powerful argument.

The British changeover was not satisfactory, but they managed a time of 38.08sec - their second best ever - for fourth place behind Nigeria and Cuba.

Regis then dashed away to join the 400m relay team, whom he anchored home to bronze behind Cuba in a time of 2min 59.73sec. Sally Gunnell collected her second medal of the Games with a strong last leg run behind the eventual winners, the Unified Team, and the United States. 'We deserved that medal,' she said. 'We ran our socks off.'

Backley had appeared to be one of Britain's flagships going into the Games, but his arrival in this Mediterranean port was less than reassuring; in seafaring terms, he was holed beneath the waterline.

Backley always goes for a big opening throw - that was how he won his Commonwealth and European titles - but it was clear when he could only manage 82.44m with his first attempt that all was not well.

Two throws earlier, Jan Zelezny of Czechoslovakia, who had taken Backley's world record off him a month earlier, had effectively determined where the gold medal was destined with an Olympic record throw of 89.66, which stood as his best of the night. It was a daunting act for Backley to follow.

His roar upon release seemed to change into a cry of pain as his hand went up instinctively to his strapped right elbow. To add to his problems, he strained an adductor muscle with his fourth throw, but still managed to improve marginally to 83.38 to earn a bronze behind Seppo Raty of Finland, who threw 86.60.

'It was a credit to the physio that I was out there in the first place,' Backley said. 'Half the battle is getting youself to the Olympics injury-free. It's so tough here. A lot of people were hanging gold medals around people's necks beforehand who didn't even qualify.'

The 5,000 metres final was won by Dieter Baumann of Germany after a complex, tactical race broke down into four men running their guts out down the final straight.

After Yobes Ondieki of Kenya had failed in an attempt to break the field in the way he had at last year's world championships, he was obliged to settle back into the group of five other runners his efforts had detached from the rest of the field - the Ethiopians, Fita Bayisa and Worku Bikila; Brahim Boutayeb of Morocco, the 1988 Olympic 10,000m champion; fellow Kenyan Paul Bitok, who ran the world's fastest 5,000 metres time this year, in Oslo - 13.08.89 - and Baumann, a converted 1500 metres runner whose danger to the field was always going to lie in his ability to finish fastest. The question was, could he stay in touch?

As the group approached the final bend for the last time, having dropped Bikila, the German was indeed in touch, but boxed in with Bayisa in front of him, Ondieki outside him and Boutayeb nibbling at his heels. No way out for his sprint finish to flourish. However, as first Bitok and then, in response, Bayisa and Boutayeb kicked savagely for home around the final bend, precious space became available. Baumann, fourth entering the straight, simply gave his all, moving ahead of Boutayeb, passing Bayisa on the inside, and then weaving outside an astonished Bitok in the last 10 metres to cross the line first in 13min 12.52sec before catapulting himself to the track in an exhausted, exhilarated half-somersault.

Rob Denmark, of Britain, was the second European home in seventh place.

As Baumann was cavorting, his team-mate Heike Henkel was winning adding the women's high jump title to the one she won in Tokyo. In the 1500 metres finals, there were mixed fortunes for Algeria's two world champions. Noureddine Morceli, who has been a diminished force this year because of a hip injury, never figured prominently in a final which, for the first time in 32 years, contained no Briton. Oh for the Coes and Crams of yesteryear.

But Morceli's compatriot, Hassiba Boulmerka, prevailed again. She moved smoothly past Lyudmila Rogacheva of the Unified Team around the final bend before stretching her lead to 10 metres as she crossed the line in 3min 55.30sec.

The performance of home runner Fermin Cacho in outsprinting Joseph Chesire of Kenya to win the men's title had the crowd in uproar - and that was only in the Royal Box, as King Juan Carlos dodged about amid a profusion of proffered handshakes. The level of sound from the 65,000 crowd as the Spaniard outsprinted Joseph Chesire and came home with enough time to wave made the ears buzz. It was only Great Night Part 1 for the King - later in the evening he left in time to see Spain win the football gold medal.

(Photograph omitted)

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