- Carl Lewis - “Never Underestimate Greatness”
- Mary Decker Slaney - “Tripped Up”
- Pro Track & Field in the United States - “Lost In Translation”
- Dan O’Brien - “Height of Expectation”
- Michael Johnson vs. Donovan Bailey - 150-Meter “Showdown”
- Dave Bedford - “Failure to Launch”
The U.S. missed an opportunity to win the 4x100 relay at the 1996 Atlanta Games when they left Carl Lewis off the race. Love him or hate him, Carl Lewis is arguably the greatest 4x100 anchor ever—even at 35 with gray hair and ancient legs. A victory could have been accomplished by moving Dennis Mitchell – one of the best third legs in the game, to his natural leg instead of the anchor leg. Instead, TEAM USA was run off the track by Canada in the finals. There is little doubt that the addition of Lewis to the team would have made a difference in the race results.
The lesson? Faced with do or die—always give greatness a try.
Going into the 1984 Los Angeles Games, Mary Decker Slaney – who held seven American records at the time – was widely considered a shoe-in to medal in the 3,000 meters. Halfway through the race, Slaney tripped when her legs got tangled with those of her main rival, Zola Budd of South Africa. While Budd recovered to come in seventh, Decker sat in the infield in pain and disbelief.
The highly anticipated start of the 1997 professional track and field season did not bring any answers, or even a new, improved professional product to United States fans. Instead, there were actually fewer meets and reduced media coverage for the season’s meets. Somehow, some way, track had failed to capitalize on the golden opportunity to grow professional track in this country after hosting two Olympic Games on U.S. soil in a twelve-year period.
Before the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Reebok pumped some $25 million into an advertising campaign involving decathletes Dan O'Brien and Dave Johnson. Dan promptly missed the opening pole vault height and failed to qualify for Barcelona. Dave made it to Barcelona, but only managed a third-place finish. What a let down for so many viewers.
Michael Johnson, the Olympic champ in the 200m and 400m from the 1996 Games, and Donovan Bailey, the 100-meter champion, had to settle the world’s fastest man controversy. After months of hype for the showdown at 150-meters in Toronto's Skydome, the payoff never came. Seconds after it started, the race was over. Michael Johnson pulled up hurt after coming out of the turn. It’s a terrible way to end a race. It was arguably the biggest disappointment since Dan vs. Dave.
At the 1972 Munich Games, Dave Bedford of Great Britain was one of the most feared long distance runners. He ran a disappointing 5000-meter race, but had a chance to redeem himself in the 10,000. Bedford seemed to have the race set up for him when it settled into a slow, tactical contest. After four laps, when he was due to move ahead, Bedford seemed weighed down by expectation. He lost heart and finished at the back in the pack.
By Jay Hicks, a.k.a. Track Evangelist.