ATLANTA -- Let's hope he drops the baton.
Or better yet, gets caught from behind.
It's not rooting against the United States.
It's rooting against Nike and NBC and all the revolting self-interest that is ruining sports.
No one knows if Carl Lewis will anchor the U.S. 400-meter relay team tonight, but take it as a given.
Asked to assess the chances of Lewis running, U.S. sprinter Jeff Williams said, "What are the chances of the sun coming up?"
U.S. assistant track coach Charlie Greene pondered the possibility of an eclipse last night, then conceded that the sun indeed would rise again.
"If we lose and Carl Lewis doesn't run, everybody in America is going to say we left the best relay man in the world off the team," he said.
True, but if they put Lewis on the team and lose, then everybody in America is going to wonder why it was so necessary to bow to a fallen king.
Not to worry, Nike can start producing the ads lauding Lewis' record 10th gold medal: Every time a U.S. team crosses the finish line in this event, it wins.
Indeed, its only four failures in the past 18 Olympics occurred because of disqualifications resulting from poor baton passes, and the boycott in 1980.
Speaking of batons, where's Shawn Eckardt?
The man behind the whacking of Nancy Kerrigan surely would be popular with the U.S. sprinters.
From King Carl on down, their egos are so out of control, they make the Dream Teamers look like utility infielders.
Take our advice.
Root for Canada.
If nothing else, Canadian world-record holder Donovan Bailey had the best quote on a day of rumors, fabrications and accusations -- your basic day at the Olympics.
"It doesn't matter who they put on the anchor -- George Clinton, Bill Clinton, Bill Bush, George Bush -- they could use George Burns," Bailey said.
In case you're wondering, the original U.S. relay team was supposed to be Jon Drummond, Leroy Burrell, Mike Marsh and Dennis Mitchell.
But Marsh sat out yesterday's qualifying rounds after running the 200 Thursday night, and Burrell is nursing a sore right Achilles' tendon.
Tim Harden and Tim Montgomery replaced them last night and helped the Americans run the fastest qualifying time -- 37.96 seconds.
Lewis, 35, has anchored five world championship relays and two gold-medal relays, including the one that ran a world-record 37.40 in Barcelona, Spain.
But that was four years ago.
And Lewis finished last in the 100 at the U.S. Olympic trials.
"Butt-naked last," in the immortal words of Drummond, and never mind King Carl's cramps that fateful day in Atlanta.
In this soap opera, the word "fateful," like the word "injury," is subject to interpretation.
Williams finished fourth in the 100 at the trials, but didn't run in the qualifying rounds yesterday, which means he won't earn a medal unless he runs tonight.
Burrell finished sixth at the trials, but Greene said he'll run tonight if he recovers in time.
Montgomery finished seventh, but after running yesterday, is practically assured of a medal.
"Carl Lewis is done. We're the future," this second coming of Jesse Owens declared.
On second thought, who cares that Lewis finished eighth?
It's a valid question.
But Lewis skipped a pre-Olympic training camp after the trials, and now wants to invoke executive privilege.
"Unmitigated gall," Williams said.
Indeed, if this is how Lewis "earns" his 10th gold, then major-league baseball should extend its season to 165 games if someone gets close to Roger Maris' record.
Did Paavo Nurmi engage in such manipulations?
The running joke is that Burrell got hurt when Nike dropped a bag of money on his leg. Kerri Strug competed in worse shape. Maybe she should anchor the relay.
NBC would love the idea.
"I have no idea what the American people want right now," Williams said. "From what I understand TV tells the American people what they want -- and the Swoosh."
That's the Nike logo, for those who can't tell their shoe companies without a scorecard.
Lewis works for Nike. Burrell works for Nike. Marsh works for Nike. What's more, they all train together.
Head U.S. track coach Erv Hunt said yesterday he heard "rumors" that Marsh was injured. Most coaches are empowered with the authority to check rumors, but never mind.
Either Burrell or Marsh figures to yield his spot tonight. And Mitchell has grudgingly agreed to give up his anchor position to Lewis.
"It's a very fluid type of situation," Greene said.
Lewis attended an afternoon practice yesterday, but did not run relays. He is expected to attend practice today as well.
"I feel like Deion Sanders trying to pick teams last year," he lamented the other day.
Only King Carl could evoke Neon Deion to reveal the depths of his tortured soul.
Let's hope he drops the baton.
His 10th gold medal would be a sham.
Pub Date: 8/03/96