NEW ORLEANS -- Carl Lewis entered the room wearing shades, a floral shirt, tan pants and loafers.
No earring. No ponytail. No guarantees.
"I've heard a lot of people say that the Olympic trials will be more difficult than the Olympic Games," he said. "In a lot of ways, it may be more competitive. But nothing can match the Olympics."
Still, to get from here to Barcelona, Spain, and the 1992 Summer Games, requires Lewis and more than 1,000 athletes to negotiate running's version of a Mardis Gras.
The 10-day U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials begin today in a stadium made famous by the Beatles and in weather that resembles a sauna.
Tad Gormley Stadium could be a launching pad for some of America's best runners and jumpers. But it could also be a dead end for others, who will try to compete in hot, humid conditions.
"It's silly that we're doing this so late," Lewis said.
With five weeks to go before the opening of the Summer Olympics, the United States is just now getting down to the business of selecting its track and field team.
It could be a messy affair.
Overshadowing the event is the legal wrangling involving Butch Reynolds, the world record holder in the 400 meters who is serving a two-year drug suspension. Reynolds will find out today a federal court in Columbus, Ohio, will order The Athletics Congress to allow his participation.
But the International Amateur Athletic Federation is threatening to ban the other 400-meter runners from the Olympics, if Reynolds should compete.
For now, the Reynolds affair is a sideshow.
The Trials are sure to be dominated by the pitched duel in the decathlon between athletes-turned-advertising pitchmen, Dan O'Brien and Dave Johnson; Jackie Joyner-Kersee's quest to qualify in the heptathlon, 100 hurdles and long jump; Michael Johnson's singular aim to run in the 200 meters; World Championship silver medalist Gwen Torrence's bid to remain supreme in the women's 100 and 200; and Mary Slaney's latest comeback in the 1,500.
But the running Mardis Gras begins with track's version of the heavyweight championship: the men's 100.
Training partners Lewis, the world record holder, Leroy Burrell, the former world record holder, and Mike Marsh, merely the fastest American in 1992, will square off in preliminaries tonight and the final tomorrow night.
"We're a very close-knit team," Lewis said. "There is excitement in the 100. We have a goal as a team, and I have a goal as an individual."
The team goal for Lewis' Santa Monica Track Club is a three-man sweep to Barcelona. The individual goal for Lewis is to get a quick start on his bid to once again win four Olympic gold medals in the 100, 200, long jump and 4 x 100-meter relay.
But Lewis is encountering daunting odds. He faces one of the fastest fields ever in the 100. He faces the nearly unbeatable Johnson in the 200. He faces world record holder Mike Powell in the long jump.
"I've been there before," Lewis said. "But when you get down on the track, whether you've been there before or not doesn't matter. You want to make it now. My main objective is to be ready to do what I have to do and use the experience that I've gained to perform in these trials. A lot can happen in these next 10 days."