BARCELONA, SPAIN — BARCELONA, Spain -- The crowd was still shouting as Carl Lewis dipped into the runway under the stands with an American flag draped across his shoulders and a smile spreading across his face.
He had won other races before. Other gold medals, too.
But there was something joyous and defiant about him, now. Every few feet he stopped for interviews, but he refused to unwrap himself from his red, white and blue cape.
"Six weeks ago, people were writing me off for dead," he said. "Now, I have a world record and a gold medal. Now, I have everything."
Last night, Lewis took his name and his reputation and stuck them right on the 1992 Summer Olympics forever. He ran an anchor leg that was so fast you'd swear he would take flight, and led the U.S. team to a 400-meter world record and a gold medal.
After all the years and all the golds, eight and counting, he kept saying that this was the defining moment of his career.
"I think getting to that finish line was the most special thing of all," he said.
It was a night of near-perfect, blazing speed for the Americans.
The oldest running world record left in track and field went down when the Americans turned the 1,600-meter relay into a rout, finishing in 2:55.74, eclipsing the mark of 2:56.16 set by the U.S. in the high altitude of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics and tied by the Americans at the 1988 Games in Seoul, South Korea.
Gwen Torrence, the 200 champion, picked up two more medals in the relays, a gold in the 400 and a silver in the 1,600.
But this was Lewis' night.
He wasn't even supposed to be running anchor after finishing sixth in the 100 and fourth in the 200 at the U.S. trials in June. But when Mark Witherspoon ruptured an Achilles' tendon in the semifinals of the 100, the way was opened for Lewis to sprint in Barcelona.
"Life is about timing," he said. "Life is about a lot of different things."
Arguably the greatest Olympian of them all became part of a high-speed ballet, with Mike Marsh, Leroy Burrell and Dennis Mitchell sprinting before him, using precise passes and incredible speed to build a lead and finish in 37.40 seconds, well ahead of the silver-medal winning Nigerians and the bronze medalists from Cuba.
The men had put their differences aside to run together. Lewis, Burrell and Marsh, members of the Santa Monica Track Club, had frozen out Mitchell during training in Europe. But they met four hours before the final, practiced their handoffs, and decided to aim at the gold.
Asked about the relay controversy, Mitchell said, "Ah, it's a tradition. We always have one. But we all come to one conclusion at the track: We want the gold medal."
It was Mitchell, running the third leg, who sent Carl Lewis off with a message, shouting over the noise of the shrieking crowd, "The guys are coming. The guys are coming. You better run. You better run. You better run."
And so Lewis did. He yelled back and took off alone, down the runway, sprinting with a fury that had not been seen before in Barcelona.
"I was standing there waiting, and I almost wanted to watch the anchor," Lewis said. "These guys are unbelievable. But Dennis yelled at me. He brought me back to reality. And with 100 meters to go, I was yelling, 'Yes, we had it.' "
It was a night when declarations led to records and medals.
The men's 1,600-relay team, divided for weeks over the inclusion of Michael Johnson, came together with a sense of urgency, and finally got that 24-year-old record. Andrew Valmon, 400 gold medalist Quincy Watts and Johnson gave anchor runner Steve Lewis such a big lead over second-place Cuba and third-place Great Britain that he used the giant television screen at the finish end of the stadium as a rear-view mirror.
"I was running with my shadow," Steve Lewis said.
And Torrence, after a week filled with controversy over her allegations of drug use by her rivals, simply kept her mouth shut and ran. Her burst in the 1,600 helped Natasha Kaiser, Jearl Miles and Morgan State's Rochelle Stevens to the silver in 3:20.92, just .72 behind the gold-medal Unified Team.
Ninety minutes earlier, Torrence used a phenomenal anchor to beat the Unified Team's Irina Privalova to the finish to win the 400 relay in 42.11 seconds. Evelyn Ashford, Esther Jones and Carlette Guidry also came away with golds.
But it was Ashford, now 35, who was perhaps the most thankful.
"I think I'm a pioneer," she said, after winning her fourth career gold. "I started when the eastern Europeans were all winning the sprints. I just wanted to prove that Evelyn Ashford could run the sprints. These are my last Olympics."
Carl Lewis would make no such promise.
"Whether I make it to 1996 or not, I'd love to," he said. "But this is the best Olympics for me."
The long jump gold is his for the third straight time. And once again, with one powerful anchor leg, he emerged as the king of the sprints.
"Carl has had a lot of longevity," Burrell said. "It's not all over. Carl may talk, but I don't see any semblance of retirement."
Barcelona belonged to Carl Lewis, after all.
The eight gold medals won by Ray Ewry and Carl Lewis for the United States in Olympic track and field. Finland's Paavo Nurmi holds the record with nine golds:
Standing long jump 1900, 1904, 1908 Standing high jump 1900, 1904, 1908 Standing triple jump 1900, 1904
Long jump 1984, 1988, 1992 400-meter relay 1984, 1992 100 meters 1984, 1988 200 meters 1984