Slow out of blocks, U.S. track meet makes strong stretch run


NEW YORK -- In Friday's 1,500-meter semifinal at the U.S. Track and Field Championships, Terrance Herrington took a hard spill on the Downing Stadium track.

He got up.

A day later, after appealing to get into the finals, Herrington outkicked a bunch of bigger names and earned a national title.

The feat made Herrington one of 40 national champions for 1991, but beyond that it made him the psychological poster boy for the meet itself.

Herrington was poised. He was resilient. He never quit, and the same can be said for the 116th edition of these championships, which were sponsored by Mobil, and after a rocky beginning, turned out to be a competitive gas.

"Now they're saying the fastest track in the world is underneath the Triborough Bridge," meet co-director Tracy Sundlun said yesterday. "I think it was a spectacular meet. I think the athletes would come back in a minute."

The meet lasted four days and featured 1,000 athletes. As the qualifying event for the upcoming world championships (the top three finishers here qualified), it drew virtually every mar

quee performer -- Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson, PattiSue Plumer, Greg Foster and a host of others. But big names couldn't stop Day 1 from being a public relations debacle.

There was no wind gauge. One long jump runway wasn't ready. Bob Kersee, Jackie's coach/husband, blasted the condition of the high-jump apron. There were also a few glitches in measuring devices.

The meet hadn't been held here for 25 years. This wasn't the homecoming organizers at Randall's Island had in mind.

Sundlun was a stand-up fellow, accepting all responsibility, even if he felt the doomsaying in the media was more vocal than was warranted.

By the time things wrapped up Saturday, though, all the standing up was being done by a charged crowd of 11,289. The count seemed quite generous, but there was no arguing the competition was as hot as the weather (91 degrees).

By far the most gripping moment was provided by Leroy Burrell, who blazed a world record with a 9.90 100 meters, his training buddy, Lewis, right on his shoulder (9.93).

But there were plenty of others.

Dan O'Brien finished the decathlon with the second highest

total ever -- 8,844 points. Delisa Floyd and Meredith Rainey wound up sprawled on the track in their 1-2 finish in the 800.

Lewis and Mike Powell put on one of the most dazzling long-jump shows in history, with Lewis needing a jump of 28-4 1/4 on his final try to extend his 10-year, 65-meet winning streak. By one centimeter.

Debbi Lawrence won the 10K walk in an American record 46:06.36. Renaldo Nehemiah finished third in the 110-hurdles with one of his best efforts since leaving the NFL six years ago.

Antonio Pettigrew won the 400 in 44.36 -- the fastest time in the world this year. There were 10 other world bests for '91, including Mark Everett's 1:44.28 in the 800; Kim Batten's 54.18 in the 400-meter hurdles; Lillie Leatherwood's 49.66 and Danny Harris' 47.62 in the 400.

Four-time NCAA 1,500 champion Suzy Hamilton -- whose surname used to be Favor but who henceforth will use her new husband's name (and no hyphens, please) -- made a savvy inside move to surge by Plumer to win the 1,500.

Recovering from a serious bout with a thyroid affliction, Gail Devers-Roberts won the women's 100 in 12.83.

Heroes and heroines were everywhere. And so for the meet, as for Terrance Herrington, the fall was long forgotten.

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