The Opening Ceremony of the first Olympics in South America is set for Aug. 5, 2016, at the famed Maracanã in Rio de Janeiro.
The highlight of the night, and an image that will endure through the following 16 days of competition and for years, will be the lighting of the Olympic cauldron.
The honor of being the final torch bearer to pass the Olympic flame into the cauldron has been awarded over the last 80 years to Olympic gold medalists, a Norwegian prince and even a Japanese runner who was born in Hiroshima the day the atomic bomb fell.
The identity of the final torch bearer(s) is always a closely guarded secret. Speculation runs rampant in the host city and nation. Who will light the cauldron? Who should light the cauldron?
For Rio 2016, the most popular answer to the first question is clear given the host country and the stadium, a legendary soccer venue.
“The first name that comes to mind is Pelé,” said Joaquim Cruz, Brazil’s 1984 Olympic 800m champion who lit the 2007 Pan American Games cauldron at the Maracanã. “But Pelé was not an Olympian, never played in a Pan American Games or an Olympic Games.”
So maybe the soccer icon with no Olympic experience isn’t the person who should light the cauldron.
There are no guidelines for choosing a final torch bearer, a decision at the hands of the Rio Olympic Organizing Committee. But there is this from the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland: “It is often a personality from the sports world or a young person symbolizing hope for the future.”
The last three Olympic cauldron lightings have involved multiple people, one with young athletes in 2012, and one with a professional sports icon on the level of Pelé in 2010 (Wayne Gretzky).
If Rio Olympic organizers want to stray from recent history and, gasp, choose someone other than Pelé, there is a very deserving candidate.
* * *
Brazil’s Vanderlei de Lima was the surprise late leader of the Olympics’ trademark event, the marathon, at the Athens 2004 Games, the return of the Olympics to their homeland in Greece.
The marathon is derived from the 490 BC story of Pheidippides, a Greek messenger who ran from the town of Marathon to Athens bearing the news of a Greek victory over Persians in the Battle of Marathon.
The 2004 Olympic marathon began in Marathon and would traverse devastating hills before ending in Panathinaiko Stadium in Athens, which was used for the first modern Games in 1896.
De Lima, 35 and a two-time Pan American Games marathon winner, was not considered a medal favorite going into the Olympics.
His personal-best time for 26.2 miles, set six years earlier, was nearly four minutes slower than that of the pre-race favorite, Kenyan Paul Tergat, who broke the world record at the 2003 Berlin Marathon.
But there was the undersized de Lima, one of seven children in a family of plantation workers, out in front as the sun set over the Acropolis.
De Lima, wearing bib No. 1234, had taken the lead ahead of 100 runners about halfway through the race and still held a 25-second advantage with about four miles to go.
At the 1-hour, 52-minute, 42-second mark, de Lima’s eyes veered to his left while on an Athens road. He raised his arms and braced for an impact.
A split second later, a man in a green beret and brown kilt flashed into the picture. He ran into the Brazilian.
Neil Horan, a defrocked Irish priest who similarly trespassed onto the British Grand Prix Formula One course the year before, grabbed de Lima by his blue Brazilian singlet. He took the runner off the road and into a row of spectators in a few seconds.
“My central message is I believe a visitor from outer space will soon come to this world, and he will take complete charge of the world and reign as king from Jerusalem for a thousand years,” Horan said in a 2008 NBC Olympics profile.
When he grabbed de Lima, Horan wore a sign on his back that reportedly read, “The Grand Prix Priest Israel Fulfillment of Prophecy Says the Bible.”
De Lima could not fight off Horan’s momentum.
“When I saw the man who was jumping on me I was scared, because I didn’t know what could happen to me, whether he was armed with a knife, a revolver or something and whether he was going to kill me,” de Lima said after the marathon, according to The Associated Press.
Polyvios Kossivas, a 53-year-old Athens salesman, hopped over a police tape-like barrier and helped quickly pull Horan off de Lima.
De Lima emerged seven seconds after the collision to continue running, his lead cut into but not gone. He was obviously affected. De Lima once waved his arms in apparent exasperation after returning to the road.
“I think that the psychological shock was the greatest impact that I suffered,” de Lima said in Portuguese in the NBC Olympics profile. “To be attacked like that, it was painful. I was totally defenseless and exhausted.
“From that moment, it was a matter of overcoming the odds. I was even shaking my head like that guy messed everything up for me. But quitting the race didn’t once cross my mind.”
Behind him, Italian Stefano Baldini and American Meb Keflezighi chased. Keflezighi, who would go on to win the 2009 New York City Marathon and the 2014 Boston Marathon, said he was too far behind to notice the attack on de Lima.
“I did not know until the press conference what had happened,” Keflezighi said earlier this year.
Baldini surged past de Lima just after the two-hour mark. Keflezighi followed one minute later.
Baldini went on to claim the gold, with Keflezighi taking silver. De Lima entered Panathinaiko Stadium destined for the bronze medal.
He blew kisses to the crowd on his closing lap of the not-quite-400-meter track. He broke into an airplane motion on the final straightaway and appeared to draw a heart with his hands near the finish line.
“It was a moment of overcoming obstacles and of dreams coming true,” de Lima said in the 2008 NBC Olympics profile.
That remains a memorable image to Brazilians.
“I still have in my mind the way he was coming before the finish line,” Cruz said. “If you hadn’t seen the race, you would say that kid is really happy he got a bronze medal.”
The Brazilian Olympic Committee appealed for a duplicate gold medal for de Lima. It was denied.
Instead, de Lima earned two medals that day in Athens. He was also awarded the Pierre de Coubertin medal by the International Olympic Committee for “exceptional demonstration of fair play and Olympic values,” an honor given on average less than once per Olympics since its creation in 1964.
“The marathon has been run for 100 years. There have been so many urban marathons. That, which we just saw, has been the worst nightmare of any race director ever. Never seen it really happen in a major marathon until now,” NBC Olympics analyst Marty Liquori said on the broadcast on the day of the Closing Ceremony, nine years before the Boston Marathon twin bombings.
The lingering question is if de Lima could have held on to win if not for Horan. He lost 20 seconds of his lead in the two miles before the attack, according to broadcast coverage of the race.
De Lima, who has said he doesn’t know how the race would have unfolded, finished 1:16 behind Baldini and 42 seconds behind Keflezighi.
“People always ask me would you have caught him [if not for Horan],” Keflezighi said. “I say yes, because we [Baldini and I] were working together trying to catch him versus him going so early [to the lead] and being by himself.”
* * *
De Lima returned to a champion’s welcome in Brazil. People gathered at the airport. His home track and field club increased his bronze medal gift to what was normally accorded to gold medalists. Ceremonies were held in his honor, even flying in the Greek who helped pull Horan off him.
He declined many sponsorship opportunities and never competed in the Olympics again.
De Lima was Brazil’s Opening Ceremony flag bearer at the 2007 Pan American Games and retired after the 2009 Paris Marathon.
He owned a type of sporting goods store in the southern Brazilian city of Maringa but gave that up and now focuses on social projects with an institute bearing his name.
“My mission is to give to poor children the opportunity that I hadn’t in the past,” de Lima said, according to responses provided by his manager to emailed questions.
De Lima said that in his mind he forgave Horan right after he finished the marathon and has not had contact with the Irishman since 2004.
“I was never angry at that man,” de Lima said in the 2008 NBC Olympics profile. “That moment of ecstasy and happiness was bigger than the frustration of not having won the gold, so that bronze medal, that was like gold for me.”
Horan was fined but not imprisoned. He said in an email this spring that he’s tried to relay apologies to de Lima through Brazilian media and in letters to Brazil Olympic officials. He even traveled to Brazil this past winter for a 17-day stay with hopes of saying sorry to de Lima in person.
“I still can remember the side glance [de Lima] gave as I approached, the really look of fright, terror on his face,” Horan said in the 2008 NBC Olympics profile. “I went slightly too far I must say, and I’ve apologized many times for possibly depriving him of the gold medal.”
De Lima doesn’t seem interested.
“All I had to talk about I have already did,” he said in an email. “I don’t like to give much attention to prevent incidents like this from happening again and to harm other athletes. For me my achievement in Athens is much higher than that episode.”
Horan is a street performer in London and has a Twitter following of 101, making frequent use of capital letters in multi-tweet rants.
“I DO want Publicity-as much of it as I can possibly get,” he said in an email.
In 2014, de Lima returned to Athens on the 10-year anniversary to film a piece for Brazilian TV about the 2004 Olympic marathon. He said he went back over the whole route.
“I relived the emotions, and I recalled everything that happened in 2004,” he said. “It was a very special time for me, I feel very well in Athens.”
De Lima said he presumed he will have a role with the Rio 2016 torch relay, which starts next spring, or other preparations. But he has nothing official yet and may end up doing TV commentary at the Rio Olympics.
And if he could pick the Opening Ceremony cauldron lighter?
“I would choose Joaquim Cruz, because he is my idol and has always been a great reference to my career,” de Lima said of the 1984 Olympic 800m champion who is now a U.S. Paralympic track and field coach and guide runner at the Parapan American Games in Toronto later this month.
Cruz remembers a commentator’s reaction when he was revealed as the cauldron lighter at the Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2007. Disappointment. Brazilians wanted Pelé.
“Soccer is the No. 1 sport in the country,” Cruz said. “Nothing else comes second.”
Asked if he could choose the cauldron lighter for the Rio Olympics, Cruz tapped his friend de Lima. Brazilians describe de Lima as shy, simple and modest.
“It’s a face that people still remember,” Cruz said. “He’s very involved in the community and with his non-profit organization. He’s a role model, both inside the track and outside the track.”
ELMONT, N.Y. — Bob Baffert texted a friend after watching American Pharoah gallop for the last time Friday before the Belmont Stakes.
“I’m really getting nervous,” he said, pausing slightly for effect. “He’s going to do it.”
Later Friday night, Baffert and his wife, Jill, dined with Joe Torre, who won four World Series managing the New York Yankees, at Del Frisco’s Steakhouse across the street from Radio City Music Hall.
“I said, ‘Joe, with the World Series, how do you mitigate the nerves?’” Jill recalled Saturday night. “Joe said, ‘If you don’t feel nervous, then it’s not important to you.’”
A theme linked the last 37 years of thoroughbred racing, a Hall of Fame trainer and a jockey with more than 3,000 career wins, and even Baffert and the equine aficionado Torre.
When American Pharoah completed a mile and a half in 2 minutes, 26.65 seconds at Belmont Park on Saturday evening, fastest of an eight-horse field, he became the first horse in his position not to fail since Affirmed in 1978.
Thirteen before American Pharoah had captured the Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes but couldn’t crack the Belmont, called the “Test of a Champion” for its distance — longer than the Derby and Preakness — and because it is a grueling third race in five weeks.
When American Pharoah jockey Victor Espinoza raised his right arm, saluting the crowd of 90,000 after his five-and-a-half-length victory Saturday, he had finally succeeded.
Espinoza said he felt like a loser in 2002 and 2014, when, after piloting horses to Derby and Preakness wins, he came up short of the Triple Crown at the Belmont.
In those 12 years between, he considered quitting the sport when mired in a slump.
“My career is like the stock market,” Espinoza, one of 12 children from Mexico, said Saturday night. “Up and down.”
When Baffert uncrossed his arms and hugged Jill amid pandemonium in the spectator stands Saturday, he had reached the pinnacle for a thoroughbred trainer.
Baffert’s Triple Crown came after he had taken horses to New York seeking the Derby-Preakness-Belmont sweep in 1997, 1998 and 2002, and failed each time, leading the snow-white-haired man in ever-present sunglasses to say, “fate owes me a Triple Crown.”
“You have to prepare yourself for disappointment,” Baffert said. “Otherwise, it will wear on you.”
Baffert, like Espinoza, was humbled in the last decade. After unbelievable early success in thoroughbred training, he went 13 years between Kentucky Derby wins before American Pharoah delivered in Churchill Downs on May 2.
Baffert also lost his parents and suffered a heart attack during a 15-month stretch in 2011-12. (Baffert had a revelation early Saturday morning; he had forgotten to take his heart medication.)
“I’m thinking about my parents,” were among Baffert’s first celebratory words to the media while walking toward the winner’s circle. “I wish they were alive to see this. I was hoping it would happen. I didn’t know how I was going to feel. Now I know.
“They were with me today. I was talking to them the whole race.”
Minutes later, Baffert was handed the Triple Crown Trophy by American Pharoah’s owner, Ahmed Zayat. Torre was around, too.
“You just hope you have the right horse,” said Torre, who was fired by three National League teams before winning 1,173 games in pinstripes and co-owning Game On Dude, trained by Baffert, a fourth-place finisher in the 2010 Belmont Stakes.
“When I managed the Yankees, I had the right horses.”
American Pharoah’s third victory in five weeks included three moments of minuscule doubt.
First, the bay colt broke out of the gate a step slow.
“He kind of sat back when they opened the gate,” Espinoza said.
It may be an exaggeration to say it conjured 2002, when Espinoza and Baffert teamed with War Emblem in a Triple Crown bid.
In the 2002 Belmont, War Emblem just about dropped to his knees out of the gate, dipping to last place, and Baffert knew it was over. Espinoza eventually navigated to the lead but faded badly down the stretch to eighth place, 19 1/2 lengths behind 70-1 longshot winner Sarava.
On Saturday, American Pharoah sped from the less-than-ideal start to the lead in a blink — “in two jumps,” Espinoza said.
“The break’s going to be key,” Baffert stressed Wednesday, when American Pharoah (3-to-5 odds) drew post five, on the inside of the top two perceived challengers, Frosted (post six, 4-to-1 odds) and Materiality (post eight, 5-to-1 odds), and repeated in the barn area Saturday within an hour of the 6:50 p.m. post time.
“We can’t let American Pharoah have an easy lead,” Materiality’s trainer, Todd Pletcher, said before the race.
They failed. Espinoza said that by the first turn, in the lead, he knew he would win.
“We all knew,” Baffert said.
“That’s the best feeling I ever had,” Espinoza said.
Around the one-mile mark, the din of the crowd, many of the 180,000 eyes fixed on infield screens, reined in ever so slightly. The second moment of doubt.
That’s when Materiality, a horse some thought could have challenged American Pharoah for an early lead, bobbed to a half-length behind.
Materiality’s challenge disintegrated there. The roar — best described by Baffert, “thunderous” — grew again.
Then came Mubtaahij, dubbed a mystery horse before the Derby for his name and his origin. His four wins out of five races were in his native United Arab Emirates. Mubtaahij finished eighth in the Derby, but maybe the five weeks between races would freshen him up for the longer distance.
The Dubai dark horse gave way to Frosted. The gray colt, who showcased late speed for a fourth-place surge at Churchill Downs, tucked in behind American Pharoah on the rail at the top of the stretch.
“I was prepared for somebody coming, because I’ve gone through this so many times,” said Baffert, who saw his failed Triple Crown hopefuls Silver Charm (1997) and Real Quiet (1998) give up the lead down the stretch.
This was the third tiny moment of doubt, and American Pharoah’s opportunity to show his mark of a champion.
Secretariat had his track records. Seattle Slew his undefeated overall mark (9-0) through his Triple Crown. Affirmed was part of the greatest rivalry in racing history with Alydar.
But American Pharoah had done little in the Derby and Preakness to earn a spot in anyone’s list of 10 greatest horses of all time.
In the final eighth of a mile, American Pharoah widened a lead over the odds-on top challenger Frosted. One length, then two. Espinoza cracked the whip.
The crowd, deafening for all of the 2 1/2 minutes save the cautious dip during Materiality’s mini-surge, turned euphoric.
Espinoza drove American Pharoah through the finish, five and a half lengths clear of Frosted and past a garden of cameras lined along the rail.
The winning time — 2:26.65 — was the fastest since 1992 at the dirt track nicknamed “Big Sandy.” Secretariat was the only Triple Crown winner to cover the mile and a half faster.
American Pharoah was the second wire-to-wire Belmont winner in 30 years and the quickest to achieve the Triple Crown, in his eighth career start.
Espinoza, the 5-foot-2 former Mexico City bus driver, rose up, balanced himself on the horse with his left arm and raised his right, fist clenched around that whip with his head bowed, eyes on American Pharoah.
Baffert kept his arms crossed, while his wife covered her nose and mouth and his youngest son, Bode, 10, hopped up and down.
“You did it,” wife Jill said were her first words to Baffert. “He didn’t say much.”
Photographers scattered from their phalanx and picked out a green poster with one word printed in all black: PHINALLY.
“Holy shit!” were Espinoza’s first words clearly picked up by a microphone after he hugged an outrider, about one minute after the finish. “Wow. Wow.”
Two of the three (now four) living Triple Crown jockeys spent Saturday at Belmont Park, too.
Jean Cruguet (Seattle Slew, 1977) and Steve Cauthen (Affirmed, 1978) signed autographs at a table near betting windows and concession stands for more than two midday hours, along with owners and trainers of their horses, plus those of Secretariat.
It’s a customary exercise for Cruguet and Cauthen, one they were joined for at least year’s Belmont by Ron Turcotte, who piloted Secretariat in 1973.
Turcotte couldn’t make it Saturday. The 73-year-old, who was paralyzed from the waist down in a Belmont Park racing accident in 1978, stayed home last week following a March car accident.
“In the old days, when the horse didn’t have a chance to win the Triple Crown, nobody even cared,” Cauthen said after signing posters and programs and sitting on a white bench for a CNN interview, four hours before Espinoza joined the Triple Crown jockeys club. “They ask me like I know when it’s going to happen. I have no clue.”
Cauthen does have a sense of what winning a Triple Crown can do for one’s life.
Cauthen’s first Triple Crown mount was the 1978 Kentucky Derby with Affirmed, five days after he turned 18 years old. He became the youngest Triple Crown-winning jockey.
Espinoza, 43, is the oldest jockey to win the Triple Crown and financially secure enough that he said he would donate all of his prize money — some $80,000 — for winning the Belmont to the City of Hope cancer hospital back home in California.
“It’s not exactly like it was for me,” Cauthen, who was named Sports IllustratedSportsman of the Year in 1978, said on a day when selfie sticks were banned at Belmont Park and more than 30 food trucks occupied the premises. “There will probably be some opportunities [for Espinoza], advertisements. Who knows, maybe he’ll get a chance to be in a movie. I have no idea, but in racing he’ll be held at a different level.”
Cauthen hoped that if the drought would be broken Saturday it could give a shot in the arm to horse racing, once called the Sport of Kings.
“A lot of people, that was their first sight of racing,” Cauthen said of Affirmed. “The ‘78 Triple Crown drew new fans to the game.”
It may not be so magnetic this time. Just look at Saturday. American Pharoah’s victory was just one turn of a dizzying global sports day.
All of these events were easily viewable online and enhanced by worldwide social media interaction.
“They want to see greatness, that’s why people go to sports,” Baffert said Saturday night, as a loop of the Belmont Stakes played continuously on a flat-screen TV behind him. “LeBron James, we want to see him take it to the hoop and make it happen. That’s basically what Victor did. He took it to them. Everybody knew what we were going to do.”
American Pharoah obviously can’t return for next year’s Triple Crown. There may be too much financial risk in having him ever race again, though Baffert asserted otherwise after the post-race press conference.
Espinoza, the world’s most famous jockey, and Baffert, the world’s most famous trainer, will continue on. But they may go 11 months on the outside of that sports cycle, until next year’s Kentucky Derby.
They didn’t seem to care.
“Everyone came to see something great, and they, we, witnessed it,” Baffert said.
They mull moving jerseys around, out of their numerical order, to refresh their memories.
“By the end of this we’ll have it figured out,” Phil Verchota says, “or we’ll have a fight going.”
* * *
All living members of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team gathered Saturday in this Winter Games host village for the first time in 35 years.
On Feb. 22, 1980, they defeated the four-time reigning Olympic champion Soviet Union, 4-3, in the Miracle on Ice.
On Feb. 21, 2015, they took part in “Relive the Miracle” in a fishbowl at the same rink, swapping wisecracks and watching footage of their undefeated run to gold. A few thousand people filled Herb Brooks Arena for $19.80 general admission tickets.
The players walked through the building formerly known as the Olympic Fieldhouse several hours before the 7:30 evening ceremony.
Players joke that captain Mike Eruzione will be paraded out in a pod, separate from his teammates.
“A Katy Perry thing,” somebody adds.
The paying customers will come to listen not to a play-by-play or slideshow, but of “the stupid shit,” as one official put it. They’re good at that. “We’re immature,” Eruzione says.
They must fill 90 minutes, not including a 15-minute intermission. It’s outlined in this afternoon briefing at the rink on a red carpet rather than the made-for-TV blue ice from 1980.
“I will get you to the promised land,” says Todd Walsh, the Arizona Coyotes broadcaster charged with moderating.
Walsh is referring to the planned climax of the night.
Bob Suter’s No. 20 jersey is to be raised at 9:15. The penalty-piling Wisconsin defenseman died following a heart attack Sept. 9. He was 57 and the first player from the team to pass away. Coach Brooks died in a single-car accident in 2003.
From now on, any full team player reunions must carry the “all living members” clause.
Suter broke an ankle two or three months before the Olympics.
“Nobody gave him a chance,” said Mark Johnson, who played with Suter at the University of Wisconsin and read a eulogy at the Madison funeral in September. “But they didn’t know Bobby Suter. For him to be in Lake Placid was a miracle.”
It’s been reported, and at least some players will confirm that they don’t remember Suter playing against the Soviets.
“Suter spent the game at the end of the bench, in a snit, but kept it to himself for the good of the team,” Wayne Coffey reported in his 2005 book, “The Boys of Winter,” a paperback displayed prominently in a Main Street bookstore during the reunion weekend.
It hurt him not to play, Mark Wells said.
“But the scars healed,” Johnson said.
U.S. backup goalie Steve Janaszak was the only player of 240 total among 12 teams in the Olympic hockey tournament not to see a minute of game action throughout the tournament, according to “The Boys of Winter.”
On Saturday, Janaszak remembered being next to Suter during a media session after the Miracle on Ice. Eruzione, starting goalie Jim Craig and defenseman Jack O’Callahan were running the show.
Suter poked Janaszak in the shoulder, and this is how Janaszak recalled it:
“Jany, you know what we are?”
“No, Sutes, what are we?”
“We’re the peas in beef stew.”
“What are you talking about?”
“We’re just here to make them look good.”
“That’s what he was,” Janaszak says now. “Humble. Hard-working. Really valuable teammate.”
* * *
Among the most valuable U.S. skaters in Lake Placid was center Mark Pavelich.
The shortest member of the team, the 5-foot-7 hockey genius (as one teammate described him) assisted on the game-tying goal against Sweden, scored and assisted on separate go-ahead goals against Czechoslovakia and assisted on a pair against the Soviet Union, including Eruzione’s winner.
“He’s like an artist, painting a picture going down the ice,” Buzz Schneider, a fellow member of the “Iron Rangers” or “Coneheads” line with Pavelich and John Harrington, said while waving his hand with a whoosh. “He could see different things, dish that puck off and go across the grain.”
During the “Relive the Miracle” ceremony, a camera focused on Pavelich while the moderator read off the Minnesotan’s accomplishments. Pavelich showed no signs of acknowledgement of either the camera or that somebody was praising him. The camera stayed on Pavelich for several seconds, but for him it must have felt much longer.
“Pav is not the type of guy to toot his own horn or be front and center,” said Harrington, who also played with Pavelich at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. “He is kind of a background guy.”
Craig said that three decades ago, the goalie and other teammates would stand in front of Pavelich and take interviews for him.
So it wasn’t shocking that Pavelich wasn’t present for past, prominent team gatherings. They lit the Salt Lake City 2002 Olympic cauldron without him. Pavelich showed for Brooks’ wake on a Friday in 2003 but didn’t stay through the weekend. Accounts labeled him reclusive.
To get Pavelich for this reunion, Holbrook reached out to his line mates.
Schneider found that Pavelich changed his email but finally got his phone number from a brother-in-law by way of another family member. Conversations began about three months ago, after Suter’s death.
Pavelich was among the last of the 19 living team members to commit to the reunion, in the last few weeks.
“When I heard Pav was coming,” Johnson said, “I was like, if he can make it, everybody can make it.”
Pavelich was driving from Oregon to Minnesota with his two dogs when he told Schneider, “I think I’m coming.”
“You never know with Pav,” Eruzione said. “He’ll sign up and not show.”
He almost didn’t. Pavelich was to drive from Lutsen, Minn., (population sub-200, near the Canadian border) to Lake Placid with a childhood friend, a Delta pilot, on Thursday. He thought better of it and left Wednesday to be safe.
They white-knuckled through snow storms in Indiana and Ohio, delayed several hours behind cars stuck in ditches and black ice. They arrived Friday afternoon.
“Pav doesn’t like to fly,” Eruzione said.
Pavelich’s voice is so soft that it’d be inaudible in a face-to-face interview outdoors with steady wind. He spoke in short sentences indoors on Saturday afternoon, while snow blew across the windows at Herb Brooks Arena.
He said this was his first time in Lake Placid in 35 years.
Pavelich, known to be an avid hunter and ice fisher, lost his wife in 2012 to an accidental fall from a second-story balcony. He sold his gold medal for more than $250,000 last year to provide for his daughter.
“I wanted to come back and see the area,” said Pavelich, who walked outside from one end of the arena complex to the other for a press conference, while the rest of his teammates packed into shuttle vans. “We didn’t have much time to explore and see everything [in 1980]. … It’s always nice to see the guys.”
Pavelich remarked to Schneider that Lake Placid has indeed changed.
“A little bit, Pav,” said Schneider, the oldest member of the team. “You haven’t been back here in a long time.”
Highlights of the Miracle on Ice loop on TVs outside the doors to the rink concourse and in storefront windows on Main Street’s half-mile stretch of shops, including an out-of-place Starbucks.
“We’re still living it here,” said Denny Allen, manager of the Olympic Center, the building that houses Herb Brooks Arena and the smaller 1932 Olympic rink.
Allen was born and raised in Lake Placid. In 1980, he managed the outdoor speed skating oval just down a hill from the Olympic Center. Eric Heiden won five gold medals there, perhaps the greatest feat in Winter Olympic history.
Allen was at work when the puck dropped on Feb. 22, 1980.
“You could hear from the oval that something was going on in there,” Allen said. “You could hear the chatter on the radios, the walkie-talkies.”
He eventually passed through a tunnel and watched the final period roaming the mezzanine.
“The building literally shook,” Allen said. “Everybody was holding their breath. Every time the puck bounced one way or the other, there was a gasp or a cheer.”
When the Lake Placid cauldron was extinguished, the Olympic Center lights stayed on, beginning with a junior college hockey tournament one week after the U.S. rallied past Finland to secure gold.
When there isn’t skating, there are proposals — meticulously planned and impromptu — and even weddings on the hallowed ice.
“It’s a weekend getaway,” said Steve Yianoukos, a 1980 Olympic Zamboni driver, and now the athletic director at Clarkson University, 70 miles northwest of Lake Placid in Potsdam.
The area, including Whiteface Mountain (skiing) and Mount Van Hoevenberg (sliding sports), still hosts competitions. Even World Championships. Olympians and Olympic hopefuls live and train at a U.S. Olympic Committee training center. Resort hotels have opened since the Winter Games.
“If you’re active, love the outdoors, love sports, it’s a wonderful place to live,” Allen said.
Recent local reports raised the question of whether Lake Placid could bid for another Winter Games. Certainly not on its own — “Salt Lake City has a hotel with 3,000 rooms. We don’t have 3,000 rooms in Lake Placid,” Allen said — but perhaps with Montreal now that the International Olympic Committee is more open to multi-nation bids.
That would certainly bring about more change to a village Eruzione compares to Pleasantville.
The captain has often come back to Lake Placid, for corporate events and speeches. He likes to unwind at The Cottage, a restaurant that’s an extra five-minute walk north of the foot-trafficked stretch of Main Street where people climbed flagpoles after the U.S. stunned the Soviets.
At the quiet Cottage, Eruzione can enjoy a beverage and look out at Mirror Lake, away from tourists.
“I don’t want anybody buying me things,” he said. “I’ve had a good enough life already.”
* * *
By 7 p.m. on Saturday, 19 jerseys hung in the “Hall of Fame Room,” the players’ ready room for the “Relive the Miracle” 35-year reunion ceremony. It resembled a church banquet area, with mingling among finger foods, family members and old framed concert posters, including Cher.
The players took the white shirts off hangers at 7:26 and wore them over dressy clothes for the 7:30 show.
They put down the Bud Lights, Stella Artois and Dasanis and filed out of the room, after Eruzione quipped about cold feet.
They lined up to be introduced, in numerical order, and stride a red carpet out to center stage (center ice without the ice).
They could see the stage before the crowd could see them. The last 20 seconds of the Miracle on Ice played on screens as a build-up, with Al Michaels’ famous line filling the rink and leading cheers.
“I wish I had my phone,” Eruzione told Ramsey in the tunnel.
Craig, No. 30, was the last to go out.
He’s returned here several times since 1980 and was the last of the 19 team members to arrive Saturday, from his daughter’s final college hockey game.
The goalie stayed in town Sunday, with his wife, to take pictures and relive memories. He usually doesn’t have that sort of free time in Lake Placid.
“It’s been able to keep its innocence,” Craig said.
“That sounds really rude and arrogant,” Shiffrin says, “and who am I to think that I’m allowed to win five gold medals anywhere in ski racing? It’s one thing to be in swimming, where there’s so many different [events]. Michael Phelps can win that many gold medals. But I’m this dinky little 19-year-old. Who am I?”
Today, she is arguably the world’s best technical skier, excelling in slalom and giant slalom, two of the four Alpine disciplines.
She may be the world’s best skier, period, by 2018. Perhaps much earlier.
The next three years are about making five gold medals — done only once at a single Winter Games, by speed skater Eric Heiden — less of a dream and more of a possibility. The best any Alpine skier has done at one Olympics is three golds, by Toni Sailer, Jean-Claude Killy and most recently by Janica Kostelic in 2002. No Alpine skier has won five Olympic gold medals in their career. Variables, such as wind gusts or course ruts, can derail even the most accomplished skiers.
Not to mention Shiffrin hasn’t expanded to all the Alpine disciplines.
The Coloradoan whose helmet bears the acronym ABFTTB (Always Be Faster Than The Boys) thinks she could eventually outpace the top women in skiing’s speed events. Super-G and downhill require a different set of racing skills than she currently possesses. (The fifth Olympic Alpine event, super combined, is made up of one downhill and one slalom.)
Shiffrin covets not only Olympic gold medals, but also the sport’s single greatest trophy. That’s the crystal globe that goes to the World Cup overall champion every year, crowning the best skier across all disciplines.
“I have no doubt that she has the talent,” says NBC Sports Alpine analyst Steve Porino. “I just don’t know if it’s going to happen tomorrow. She’s still developing.”
Shiffrin spent the nine months since Sochi working toward those goals. She’s seen strides and struggles, proof there’s no assurance she will be favored to win more gold medals than the one in 2014.
That made no difference at the White House on April 3. The skier learned there that her press conference comment had reached President Barack Obama, who mentioned it in a live-broadcast address to a group of Sochi Olympians.
“She said she wants to win five gold in 2018,” Obama started out, gazing down on Team USA.
Shiffrin’s jaw dropped. Her face turned beet red. Olympic teammates turned and looked at her. She said those few seconds in a crowded hall felt like an hour.
“I’ve just got three words of advice,” Obama directed to Shiffrin. “Go for it.”
[parallax src=”https://nbc-sports.go-vip.net/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/2014/11/shiffrinap.jpg” height=600 credit=”Shiffrin gets her own street. (AP)”]
Less visible in the offseason was her devotion to training giant slalom, her secondary event.
Shiffrin owns the trifecta of titles in the slalom — Olympics, World Championships and World Cup. But entering this season in the giant slalom, she had never won in 24 tries over the same three competitions.
“I think my slalom’s at a point where I’m really comfortable with where I’m at,” Shiffrin said in the summer. “That leaves a little more room for training [giant slalom], which is what I need.”
The progression from technical skier to overall skier goes from mastering slalom to giant slalom to adding super-G and downhill. Shiffrin wanted to check off a giant slalom victory before diving into super-G.
After getting her wisdom teeth removed, she spent five weeks training in New Zealand and more time analyzing film of the world’s best giant slalom skier, Olympic men’s champion Ted Ligety.
“I like to watch the men because I like the way they’re aggressive toward skiing fast,” Shiffrin says. “They don’t look like they’re scared of anything. Women, the smallest thing can set a girl back two seconds. Like if fog blows in. Or if there’s a little bump in the course. It just seems, girls are so wimpy, myself included. I’m shooting to be more the man mentality. I still want to be soft and smooth and elegant and feminine when I ski, but I want to have a little bit more of that mental toughness.”
Shiffrin then watched film with Ligety for the first time in October, in the days leading to the first races of the World Cup season, men’s and women’s giant slaloms in Soelden, Austria.
She sat behind Ligety and his coaches in a room. Ligety studied in silence for 15 minutes. Then he turned around to Shiffrin, who is 11 years younger.
“So, do you want to know anything?” Shiffrin recalled him saying
“Yeah,” Shiffrin says. “How do you ski so fast?”
Shiffrin is known for listening to Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” before races, a song that she can play on the piano. But when she stepped to the starting gate in Soelden on Oct. 25, wearing bib No. 1 as the first skier to go in the first event of the season, she chose the just-downloaded We are only what we feel, the debut album of Swedish pop rock trio NONONO.
The atmosphere felt like the Olympics or World Championships, Shiffrin says. The uncertainty of what would happen. Had she done everything right in the summer? Had other skiers prepared better?
Shiffrin skied soundly to the bottom, posted a time, but figured it would not hold up after the rest of the field skied.
“She felt like she had a lot more in the tank to go faster,” says her mother, Eileen, whom she travels with on the World Cup tour.
Yet Shiffrin’s time wasn’t beaten. She skied last during the second run, after a four-hour break to ponder her lead of nine hundredths of a second. She developed an upset stomach.
That second run did not sit as well, 14th-fastest. The last skiers to go are generally at a disadvantage as the course gets carved up by the preceding women. But Shiffrin held on to tie for the victory with Austrian Anna Fenninger, the reigning World Cup overall and giant slalom champion.
Shiffrin didn’t mind sharing the top step of the podium with the world’s best skier from the previous season, and on Fenninger’s home snow.
“It was a huge relief, because that tie, or win, I don’t know what we call it now, it represents a lot of work,” her mother says. “It’s an enormous amount of mental pressure off of her. Now she can take that same stuff that she had been working on into her super-G.”
The victory gave her and her coach of 3 1/2 years, Roland Pfeifer, confidence to set her first World Cup super-G start in Val d’Isere, France, on Dec. 21.
[parallax src=”https://nbc-sports.go-vip.net/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/2014/11/shiffrin-ligety.jpg” height=600 credit=”Shiffrin (slalom) and Ted Ligety (giant slalom) hold up their World Cup globes from 2014 titles. (Getty)”]
Swiss Stefan Abplanalp was hired as the women’s speed events coach for the U.S. Ski Team in April and has little experience working with Shiffrin. Of what he has seen, in person and on video, he believes Shiffrin won’t need much time to feel comfortable in super-G. Winning is another matter.
“Top 20, top 15, that would be a good result to start,” he says.
Val d’Isere was the same venue where Lindsey Vonn aggravated her surgically repaired right knee during a downhill run in an attempt to prepare for the Sochi Olympics (she tore her ACL, MCL and suffered a tibial plateau fracture earlier that year). This year’s Val d’Isere super-G is on the one-year anniversary of Vonn’s run. It could be the first time Shiffrin and Vonn go in the same race since Jan. 27, 2013.
Shiffrin and Vonn have been the subject of many comparisons, though they are different skiers and Vonn is three inches taller. Vonn was the world’s greatest speed-events skier before her injury but hasn’t made a podium in slalom in five years.
Vonn’s favorite venue is Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada, which has been called Lake Lindsey because of her overwhelming success, so great that she’s petitioned to race against men there.
Shiffrin laughed when asked this summer if she thought she could race in Lake Louise this December, a course that typically favors bigger skiers because of the extra speed they generate on the steeper, straighter super-G and downhill course.
“I’ve got to get some more meat packed on me before I can expect to do well there,” she said, smiling.
Six-time Olympic medalist Bode Miller is perhaps the finest example of a young technical skier evolving into an overall champion. When Miller was 20, he skied only slalom and giant slalom at the 1998 Olympics at 190 pounds.
By 2002, experts praised Miller’s slalom similarly to how they speak of Shiffrin’s prowess.
In the Salt Lake City Olympics combined event, Miller came from 15th place after the downhill run to win silver after two slalom runs. His second slalom run was an enormous 1.18 seconds faster than anybody else.
“I’ve never seen anybody ski so fast,” says gold medalist Kjetil Andre Aamodt, the most decorated Olympic Alpine skier ever with eight medals, who compared Miller to Italian legend Alberto Tomba that day in Utah. “He’s revolutionized the way of skiing.”
Miller went on to notch World Cup victories in every discipline, from slalom to downhill plus combined races. He won two World Cup overall titles.
He also gained about 30 pounds over several years after the 1998 Olympics, which helped increase his speed in downhill and super-G. He slowly lost his technical dominance in the process, winning his last slalom in 2004. Miller hasn’t finished in the top 10 of a slalom race in nearly six years and is now a speed events specialist in the twilight of his career.
The greatest all-around skiers in recent memory — Miller and women’s champions Anja Paerson, Tina Maze and Janica Kostelic — each had about a two-year window where they were among the top in every discipline.
Mastering them all and keeping that grip is incredibly difficult. And that’s if a skier even gets that far. Speed events carry greater injury risk than the technical ones.
“I’ve seen so many great technical skiers all of a sudden try to do speed and ended up being hurt,” Pfeifer says. “They had a really promising career ahead of them, and then it just stopped.”
[parallax src=”https://nbc-sports.go-vip.net/wp-content/uploads/sites/21/2014/11/shiffrin-sochi-medal-getty.jpg” height=600 credit=”Shiffrin with her gold medal from Sochi. (Getty)”]
Kostelic retired at 25, after 10 knee operations. Vonn blew out her knee in the super-G at the 2013 World Championships, rushed her return and needed more surgery in January, ruling her out of Sochi.
Swiss skier Lara Gut, who won two silver medals at the 2009 World Championships at age 17, looked to be the biggest threat to Vonn at the 2010 Olympics. But Gut dislocated a hip in a training crash in September 2009 and missed the entire season.
“The one thing that would prevent [Shiffrin], I think, from being a great all-arounder is patience,” Porino says. “If she doesn’t cross her Ts and dot her Is on the things that could keep her out of the hospital — managing the terrain and air time [super-G and downhill racing includes flying off jumps, unlike in slalom]. You really have to train that.”
In Shiffrin’s second race this season, she finished 11th in a slalom in Levi, Finland. She won four of the final five World Cup slaloms last season.
She arrived late to the venue inside the Arctic Circle due to travel delays, but her agent, former World Cup racer Kilian Albrecht, said she looked fine in the abbreviated training that she did get before the race.
“It would be a problem if she had a bad run in training,” Albrecht says. “She’s only 19, and I think she should be allowed to not have a good [race] day. She has done so much and been so great. Like 99 percent of the time she has delivered.”
Even last season, Shiffrin had a 12th-place finish in one of her eight World Cup slaloms.
The variables in ski racing – such as weather and course conditions changing mid-race – make it that even a dominant slalom skier like Shiffrin can’t be expected to win every time (though she has also dreamed of doing that over an entire season).
But any poor slalom result is a reminder that neither Miller nor Paerson kept their slalom prowess as they became better in speed events. As Shiffrin devotes more time to super-G, there are other women skiing only technical events with a target on the American’s back.
Shiffrin is boosted by her corner, including her mother, who is shedding more day-to-day responsibilities to her daughter in her fourth season, such as banking and shopping. Shiffrin still must work on her German, though.
There’s also Albrecht, who unlike many agents, is at just about every race and isn’t juggling several clients at once.
He’s been careful about Shiffrin’s media and endorsements.
“P&G [Proctor & Gamble], that was the only sponsor we added going into the [Sochi] Games,” he says of Shiffrin, who was recognized by no one during a summer trip to New York, except for sports writers. She gets stopped overseas, reminiscent of Miller, who once wore a shirt with the words, “I’m big in Europe.”
“We have to be careful that a brand fits to her image and her style and what she’s representing and her values,” Albrecht says.
Which is primarily about skiing for now. There’s plenty to keep her busy.
Shiffrin raced in lower-level super-Gs in Colorado last week and finished 15th and 16th, behind at least four other U.S. women in both events. And neither Vonn nor four-time Olympic medalist Julia Mancuso were part of those fields.
She said she took her “foot off the gas” in the first race and didn’t know how to handle going higher off a jump than she anticipated in the second one. Channeling high speeds and air are not obstacles she deals with racing from gate to gate in slaloms.
Shiffrin said after those 15th- and 16th-place finishes that she didn’t want to race super-G at February’s World Championships unless she felt like she could win. But that’s not realistic at this point, Pfeifer says.
“She needs to get comfortable [in super-G, which requires longer skis], not to get hurt and be able to ski in training and transfer it into the race,” he says. “Winning is kind of a little bit longer term.”
Shiffrin has more than three years until the Olympics, the next time many sports fans will pay close attention to her. Come 2018, they may only remember her from Sochi, winning slalom gold at 18 and divulging the dream of entering all five events the next time, and winning them all.
“Who am I to say I can win five gold medals?” Shiffrin says now. “Most other racers would say it’s impossible to win five gold medals. It’s too much time and effort. What if you get sick or hurt? But I’m like, well what if you don’t? What if you’re there, and you have the chance, and it comes down to the last race. You’re in the position to win your fifth gold medal. Who’s to say you’re not going to do it?
“I feel like a lot of people don’t stretch those boundaries. … I’m trying to show people what’s not impossible.”
Nine days before the New York City Marathon, the race’s director hobnobbed with King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia in the northern Spanish city of Oviedo.
“I never dreamed of going anywhere the week before [the marathon],” said Mary Wittenberg, also the CEO of the $55 million non-profit New York Road Runners, which puts on the marathon. “It tells you how significant the award is.”
Wittenberg and George Hirsch, who helped found the first five-borough New York City Marathon in 1976, flew over to accept what’s called a Prince of Asturias Award in Spain.
The Prince of Asturias Awards are often analogized to the Nobel Prizes, bestowed for the arts, literature, sciences and, in this case quite unlike the Nobel Prizes, in sports.
This year, the Prince of Asturias Foundation honored an event – the New York City Marathon — rather than an athlete or team for the second time since the sports award was established in 1987.
“Since its creation in 1970, when only 127 runners participated, it has become the foremost popular race of its kind, symbolizing coexistence between amateur and professional sport at its best, with more than 50,000 competitors taking part in last year’s race,” the foundation said in announcing the marathon as its recipient. “This ultimate expression of sport, citizen involvement and the spirit of solidarity is reflected on the first Sunday in November each year in a tradition boasting major media coverage, in which the entire city is infused with collective enthusiasm to run the legendary 42 kilometres and 195 meters.”
Frank Shorter would highlight the term “citizen involvement.”
Shorter, the mustached 1972 Olympic marathon champion, is largely credited with inspiring America’s first running boom 40 years ago. Thin, shirtless males in nylon shorts took to the streets.
But what does Shorter see as citizen distance running today?
“The theme of your article,” Shorter answered, “is the inclusion keeps expanding.”
Runners were more competitive four decades ago. The average U.S. men’s marathon finish time in 1980 was 3:32:17, according to Running USA. Last year, it was 4:16:24.
They were also more male. Women weren’t allowed to race the Boston Marathon until 1972. This April, 45 percent of the Boston finishers were female. The audience for Runner’s World magazine is slightly more female than male, editor-in-chief David Willey said.
Shorter and industry experts cited a second running spike about 15 years ago, after those fast, early male boomers had aged. More women who grew up after Title IX joined the movement. Some were run/walkers. Many were about completing races rather than competing.
“The term I use is for [the second boom] is running for other people and other reasons,” Shorter said.
One of the top New York City Marathon charities, Fred’s Team, was founded in 1995 and has raised over $57 million for cancer research.
Danish tennis star Caroline Wozniacki will run Sunday’s marathon to support Team for Kids, an organization that promotes children’s fitness that’s in its 13th year. She’s raised more than $75,000 so far.
Now, Shorter sees a third evolution as records were set in 2013 for marathon finishers (541,000) and races (1,100) in the U.S. More runners are entering races of all distances for the experience.
“Getaway trips for people to meet at cool destinations,” Willey said. “Do a race, and also go out and have a great dinner. And do whatever things are in whatever city you’re at.”
Some call them “lifestyle runners.”
“Get in a room with 100 people, and you can’t tell which ones are runners,” said John Bingham, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series’ principal race announcer for the last 10 years. “They don’t have shoes in the trunks of their cars. They don’t wear running shorts for seven years before washing them.”
There are more options than ever for all types of runners with the proliferation of themed events such as Spartan Races, Color Runs and Tough Mudders. Those “non-traditional” race finishers outnumbered marathon and half marathon finishers for the first time last year, according to Running USA.
If there is a struggle, or a challenge, or an obstacle, associated with the expanding inclusion of citizen involvement, it is the even steeper increase in events.
“A saturation,” Shorter said.
Shorter recently was in Georgia to appear at a road race, and the event’s name temporarily escaped him. So he Googled to find a website that aggregated races, searched for all 5Ks and 10Ks within a 50-mile radius of Atlanta and found 25 pages of results.
Some traditional road races that used to sell out aren’t reaching capacity. Others have been discontinued. Even in the highly publicized Rock ‘n’ Roll series, several cities are no longer hosting events, mostly because of low participation and lack of local support, they say.
“It’s like New York restaurants,” Bingham said. “The good ones will always be there, but the bistros that serve lousy sandwiches, they’re not going to survive.”
What makes an event great is more complicated, too. Bingham remembered hearing a recent complaint from a finisher not satisfied with the race’s entertainment.
“Imagine [three-time New York City Marathon winner] Alberto Salazar coming across the finish line and saying the band sucked,” Bingham said.
Traditional race organizers are trying to keep up. Wittenberg pointed to the pre-race expo evolving into a pre-race party, such as beer and bands at Brooklyn Bridge Park for three days before the Brooklyn Half in May.
Another growing group are variant seekers going beyond the 26.2-mile threshold.
“They’re like, everybody and their mother is finishing marathons, where do I turn to be on the leading edge and put myself out there a little more?” Willey said. “They’re turning towards ultras.”
Ultramarathon races can last up to and over 100 miles or 24 hours.
In August, a barefoot bartender from Savannah, Ga., with three years of running experience broke the world record for largest distance covered without shoes in one day — 137 miles on a domed Alaska track.
The Badwater Ultramarathon brags that it’s “the world’s toughest foot race.” It’s 135 miles, in Death Valley, in mid-July.
Jenny Hoffman, a Harvard associate professor of physics, had Badwater on her bucket list until two years ago. That’s when Michael Popov, a man who set a record by finishing a 222-mile race in four days, 5 hours, 25 minutes, died on a six-mile solo run in 120 degrees in Death Valley.
Still, Hoffman lives for ultras. The mother of three won the women’s division of the NorthCoast 24-Hour Endurance Run in Cleveland on Sept. 20-21 by running just over 127 miles.
“I’m not a talented runner,” Hoffman said. “I really love the running itself.”
Hoffman jokes that when she was in elementary school, when kids misbehaved, they were sent to run around a pond. She was the slowest.
She was barely talented enough to earn a high school varsity letter in track. A Harvard Crimson rower, she took one long training run as a senior and entered the Philadelphia Marathon.
“In contrast to crew, you weren’t trying to kill your competitors,” said Hoffman, a 1999 Harvard grad..
She liked that. So, when Hoffman encountered a “grad school mid-life crisis” in her third year at the University of California, she did an Ironman triathlon. Out of that, she preferred running over swimming and biking. Two years later, she signed up for her first 100-mile race and was hooked.
“I value something where if I work really hard, I know that it will pay off,” said Hoffman, a mother of three who takes her 5- and 8-year-olds for weekend 5Ks. “In the real world, there are so many things where that doesn’t always correlate. It doesn’t always correlate in ultra running, either — you could have a bad weather day, trip or sprain an ankle — but there’s a more reliable correlation than in some areas of professional life.”
U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Bill Cuthbert, who started running 10 years ago as a slightly overweight 25-year-old, has done six 100-mile races and one 24-hour race.
He said there’s a “weird line” that separates marathons from ultras. In marathons, you run until you fall apart. In ultras, you run until you fall apart, but there’s more race left.
“There’s a death and rebirth,” he said. “That feeling of coming back together is so powerful.”
The New York City Marathon race director is most impressed, out of all races outside the five boroughs, by another ultramarathon, the Comrades Marathon (56 miles) in South Africa. It is the world’s oldest (since 1921), largest (18,000 runners) and, many say, greatest ultramarathon.
“It’s an event that captures the imagination of people,” Wittenberg said.
Frank Shorter will spend the New York City Marathon weekend in Springfield, Mo., appearing at the Bass Pro Conservation Marathon to benefit the Ozark Greenways.
He gets out to about 15 races per year, events such as the Bolder Boulder. That Colorado 10K, which he co-founded, draws even more runners than the New York City Marathon.
Shorter’s message to Boulder’s elite racers at the beginning was simple: You are not that important.
“The reason the advertisers and sponsors are interested in this race,” Shorter said, “are all the people running behind you.”
On July 11, Powell’s world record in the men’s long jump turned 8,351 days old, and his thoughts traveled back to its birth, Aug. 30, 1991. They often do.
The previous world record, etched indelibly by Bob Beamon at the 1968 Olympics, turned 8,351 days old on Aug. 30, 1991. Powell snapped it that night, in Tokyo during a World Championships epic event with Carl Lewis.
Powell has now held the world record longer than Beamon did, and nobody is currently jumping close to it.
“It’s lasted 23 years,” Powell, an avowed stat geek, said in a recent phone interview. “I didn’t think it would last 23 minutes.”
“It felt like a regular jump,” he told Sports Illustrated 46 years ago.
Beamon loped 19 strides and launched off the takeoff board like nobody had ever seen. Jesse Owens, peering through binoculars inside the stadium, estimated Beamon leapt vertically five to six feet, according to SI.
Beamon fell to Earth. His white shoes dug into the landing pit, six seconds after his first step down the runway. Momentum carried Beamon to three mini jumps out of the pit. He jogged away, wiggling his arms and receiving one low-five before reaching a bench.
Then he waited.
The jump was so long, so unexpected, that the measuring device couldn’t extend far enough to record it. It took about a half-hour to locate and lay out tape to confirm what Beamon figured, that he’d broken the world record of 27 feet, 4 3/4 inches.
Officials announced the mark in meters – 8.90 – but Beamon, not fully versed in metrics, couldn’t fathom it. He has said he thought it might have been a shot put mark.
Teammate Ralph Boston, the 1960 Olympic champion, broke the news to him: Beamon leaped clear past 28 feet, to 29 feet, 2 1/2 inches.
He shattered the record by nearly two feet.
Beamon collapsed to his knees and covered his eyes in disbelief.
Descriptions of the feat have since ranged from a “mutation” performance by a medical expert; to being in “the twilight zone” by Beamon; to what “might be the clearest instance of adrenaline-driven overachievement that the sports world has ever seen” by SI.
Perhaps the best came on Oct. 18, 1968, from one of Beamon’s competitors to SI.
“Compared to that jump, the rest of us are children,” said Igor Ter-Ovanesyan of the Soviet Union, who ceded his share of the world record that day.
Mexico City marked Beamon’s first and last Olympics, nine months before man landed on the moon. He never again jumped 27 feet, partially due to injury.
Beamon has said he expected his world record to be broken “in the next 30 minutes” at the Olympics. The conditions were ripe, jumping at an altitude more than 7,000 feet above sea level. Beamon also benefited from the maximum allowable tailwind for record purposes, 2 meters per second.
But nobody challenged it in Mexico City. In fact, nobody would jump within a foot of Beamon through the 1970s.
Then came Carl Lewis, whose prodigious talent was rivaled by his steadfast confidence that he would one day break Beamon’s record.
Lewis would win four straight Olympic long jump gold medals from 1984 through 1996, along with five more in the sprints. Officially, he never beat Beamon’s mark, but Lewis maintains the record book lies. He and others point to the National Sports Festival in Indianapolis on July 24, 1982.
“Carl jumped 30 feet,” NBC Olympics track and field analyst Dwight Stones said. “I was right there.”
Stones, then a high jumper, said long jumper Jason Grimes approached him in the infield before Lewis sprinted down the runway that day.
“You want to see a 30-foot jump?” Grimes told Stones. “You better watch right now.”
Lewis just about proved Grimes prophetic with his leap, but an official raised a red flag, indicating a foul on Lewis’ takeoff.
“We were crestfallen,” Stones said.
Lewis and Stones both said the official erred in ruling that Lewis’ foot nudged over the foul line, even though it left no mark in the foul area. A foul could only be called if a mark was left, Lewis argues to this day.
Nevertheless, Lewis’ imprint was raked before it could be measured. He insists it was farther than Beamon’s world record, if not 30 feet.
Lewis’ very next jump was legal, and it was the second-longest ever at the time, 28 feet, 9 inches.
“Not getting the record that day worked out better for me in my career anyway,” Lewis says now, still remembering an ABC 20/20 investigative report titled, “The Perfect Jump,” with an Israeli-born physicist dissecting video of his magical foul. “It told me you could break the record if you really, really want to. That day changed the way I look at my career.”
Beamon’s record withstood the challenge.
Lewis won the first of four straight Olympic long jump golds two years later, but it was Soviet Robert Emmiyan who scared Beamon with a 29-foot jump in May 1987.
”When I heard about that, something came over me,” Beamon said in a press conference one week later, according to The New York Times. ”I felt it’s evident my record will be gone soon. I’ve been preparing myself for that day.”
Beamon readied to hand it over to Lewis, who had not set a personal best in five years but was in the midst of a 10-year, 65-meet winning streak.
Mike Powell said he met Bob Beamon twice before the summer of 1991, in 1985 and 1989, according to TheNew York Times.
Powell, a basketball standout as a boy like Beamon, said he saw the world record holder one more time a month before the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo. He spotted him in the crowd at one of his competitions.
“I remembering saying, I’m going to show Bob Beamon how far I can jump,” Powell said. “I remember looking up in the stands, and he’s leaving! What?!? You’re going to leave while I’m jumping?”
Powell, who says even today that his “whole life story is being the underdog,” took it as a slap in the face.
At the time, Powell was the 1988 Olympic silver medalist and the No. 4 American on the all-time list, behind Beamon, Lewis and Larry Myricks.
Beamon said then he didn’t follow the sport close enough to recognize Powell. They would soon get very acquainted.
Powell rarely has an extended time without seeing highlights of the 1991 World Championships long jump in Tokyo, considered by many the greatest head-to-head duel in track and field history.
“But every single time I see it, I go right back to the moment,” he says now, giddiness still in his voice. “I smell the air in the stadium.”
What does it smell like?
“Have you ever been in the South, and there’s a storm about to come, and the air gets real thick?” Powell asked. “There was a typhoon in the city. So the air was electric.”
Powell came to Tokyo with an 0-15 career record against Lewis, but he felt more confident than ever to finally get on the scoreboard on Aug. 30, 1991.
He led Lewis until the final jump during an event two months earlier, until Lewis summoned a last-gasp leap to win by a single centimeter. It was Lewis’ best jump since the 1988 Olympics.
“I demonized Carl,” Powell said. “When we were in a room together, I always thought we were about to fight. He might not have known I was even there.”
The long jump didn’t start until the seventh day of competition in Tokyo. So, while Lewis focused on the 100 meters the first few days, Powell focused on himself, plodding through the athletes’ village without making eye contact with anyone.
“I already had my game face on,” Powell said. “I was jumping over and over and over again in my head.”
There’s written proof. He was asked to sign an autograph after his final gym workout before the competition.
“Mike Powell, personal best 8.66,” he wrote, using metric as he usually did overseas. Then, he added a new line before putting the pen down. “1991 World Championships 8.95?”
Powell felt sure he would break Beamon’s 8.90m world record. He was less confident he would win the gold medal.
Four nights before the long jump final, Lewis won the 100m in 9.86 seconds, snatching the world record back from countryman Leroy Burrell in what was then the fastest race in history. In long jump qualifying the day before the final, Lewis leaped more than a foot farther than anybody else. He then approached his coach, Tom Tellez.
“Look, I want to go break the world record,” in the final, Lewis recalled, “and I’m never going to jump again. I’m just going to sprint. It’s too hard [balancing sprints, the long jump and “the management” part of his career].”
Track and field meets are likened to a three-ring circus. Throws, jumps and races can run simultaneously. Often, field events take a backseat to sprints. But not in Tokyo. Press box binoculars were fixed on the runway on Aug. 30.
“All the elements were there for a great battle,” Stones said. “I think everybody in the stadium was holding their collective breaths, as was Powell.”
Powell jumped before Lewis in the 13-man order. He gritted his teeth on the runway for the first of his six attempts, set to plow through a swirling wind. His first jump was deplorable, not even 26 feet. He said he was so amped up he was almost hyperventilating.
Powell, so error-prone he used to be called “Mike Foul” by his coach, was over the board on his fourth. Lewis sat on the edge of the back of the runway to watch from behind.
“I saw [Lewis],” Powell said. “I looked at Carl like, I’m getting you today.”
Lewis then surpassed Beamon’s hallowed record by one centimeter on his fourth jump, but again with too much tailwind, 2.9 meters per second. Lewis’ eyes popped when the distance flashed on the scoreboard.
“If this man gets a legal wind, he might just break Beamon’s record,” Stones said in astonishment on the broadcast.
Lewis had just posted the greatest back-to-back long jumps in history. He put on his sweats and sat on the grass to watch Powell’s fifth.
Powell puffed his cheeks, waved his arms like a pro wrestler on a ring walk, attacked the runway and propelled off the board with room to spare. He panged as his body arched back in the air with Beamon-esque height. He gave in to gravity and dug into the dirt with a thud that caused screams from a crowd of some 60,000.
“That explosion,” Stones called it. “That bomb.”
Powell immediately rose from the pit, raising his arms, pointing his fingers and roaring with focused intensity. The wind reading flashed in yellow numbers. A legal 0.3 meters per second.
Powell clapped as he awaited the distance reading. Lewis, in the same sitting position as when Powell embarked on the runway not 30 seconds earlier, stood up.
“Everything I did during my whole life until that point was encapsulated in that jump,” Powell says now. “Everything in my life that I had not achieved. Every girl that turned me down for a date. Every time I didn’t learn something. That was my moment to show the world.”
Powell heard another sea of screams and jaunted on the track, past advertising boards for Coca-Cola, Philips and Fujifilm.
It didn’t take long to realize it wasn’t a victory lap, though. Lewis, who by then had disrobed his navy blue sweatshirt, had two jumps left.
“[Lewis] was the guy who could sink a full-court shot at a buzzer to win a game,” said longtime track and field writer Dick Patrick, who covered the Tokyo meet for USA Today. “He was like Michael Jordan. Carl was like Tiger Woods, even five shots behind in the last round of the U.S. Open, you still think he could have a chance to win.”
Lewis thought the same. He planned to leap farther than Powell, finally take the world record and retire from the long jump with that 10-year unbeaten streak.
“Zero doubt,” Lewis says now.
“I fully expected Carl to come back and jump 29-6, 29-7,” he said.
He almost did. Lewis’ fifth jump was the longest legal jump of his career — 29 feet, 1 1/4 inches — but still behind Powell and Beamon.
Powell — the stat geek and time freak — measured the wait for Lewis’ sixth and final jump on a watch (5 minutes, 31 seconds, reports said). “Please,” he pleaded before Lewis’ finale, bowing his head and folding his fingers in prayer.
Lewis’ last attempt fell short, 29 feet even. Second place for King Carl.
Powell vanquished Lewis, dethroned Beamon and celebrated like NC State coach Jim Valvano after the 1983 NCAA Championship Game.
Powell ran wildly and bear hugged the first stranger he came in contact with — the foul judge.
“You’re going to need a crowbar to get this smile off my face,” Powell said while on the infield.
Bob Beamon’s phone rang around 7 a.m. on Aug. 30, 1991, with the news he had feared for years. Ron Freeman, his 1968 Olympic teammate, delivered it.
“For a moment, I thought Ron had an apple in his throat,” Beamon said then. “Obviously, there was something he wanted to tell me, but he didn’t quite know how to begin.”
Beamon felt confused, not by the record falling, but by who broke it. He had always thought it would be Lewis. (Even though the story goes that Powell’s coach introduced himself to Beamon years earlier by saying, “I’m the guy who’s going to coach the guy who’s going to break your world record.”)
“They said my record would never be broken,” Beamon says now. “I’ve always looked at it as records will always be broken.”
Powell’s whirlwind of voicemails, media and insomnia lasted through that weekend. He broke the record on a Friday night. On Monday, he was back home in California and awake before dawn for a CBS morning show appearance with Beamon.
The pair shared meaningful conversation for the first time. Beamon says he has no recollection of it today, which is interesting, given Powell said at the time that Beamon broke into tears and told Powell that he loved him.
They barely talked about jumping or track and field. Rather, they shared passions for music and basketball.
“I think [Beamon] carried around a tremendous burden for 23 years, and that day was like having a weight lifted from his shoulders,” Powell told SI in 1991. “It felt like he was passing the torch on to me.”
Powell went into the 1992 Olympic year thinking a 30-foot jump might be possible, especially with Lewis there to push him. But neither Powell nor Lewis jumped farther than 28 feet, 7 inches, the rest of their careers.
Powell suffered a back injury in his first serious outdoor meet of 1992. Then it was a hamstring. Then a heel.
Lewis won the 1992 Olympic long jump on his first jump, 28 feet, 5 inches. Powell took silver, again, an inch behind.
Powell defended his World Championship in 1993, without Lewis in the competition.
Then came July 29, 1995. Powell woke to a phone call, not unlike the one Beamon received four years earlier.
Powell said Sestriere is the best place to jump in the world. It’s in thin air nearly a mile high, with a fast runway and often heavy tailwinds. (Powell’s farthest ever jump was in Sestriere in 1992, 29 feet, 6 inches, with 4.4 meters per second of wind, more than twice the legal limit.)
Italian media quickly questioned Pedroso’s jump, reporting a man standing in front of the wind gauge on the Cuban’s attempts.
There were 60 long jumps and triple jumps at the meet, and 56 exceeded the maximum allowable wind for record purposes. Three of the four legal jumps were Pedroso’s, including the “record” jump at 1.2 meters per second, according to 1995 reports.
Italy’s track and field federation didn’t even bother submitting the jump to the sport’s international governing body for world record ratification, given the circumstances.
Powell kept the record despite that brief scare. His grip on it has only strengthened the last two decades. No man has jumped with seven inches of Powell in the last 23 years.
In 2012, Great Britain’s Greg Rutherford won the Olympic long jump with an 8.31-meter leap (27 feet, 3 inches), the shortest jump to win Olympic gold since 1972.
That regression is an anomaly in a sport where most standing world records don’t last more than a decade or were set by dubious Soviet, Chinese or East German athletes in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“I have the oldest record in the books, as far as I’m concerned,” Powell said.
Jesse Owens’ career-best from 1935 would have won the 2012 Olympic bronze medal.
“We’re not progressing,” Lewis said. “In what other event could someone who competed 80 years ago still be competitive?”
Of the greatest all-time long jumpers, and analysts such as Stones, it’s Lewis who is most adamant about why the long jump is not what it used to be. He listed several reasons. The best young athletes are gravitating to sprints. There’s nobody in the event setting a standard for others to chase, like Lewis throughout the 1980s.
In the simplest terms, the long jump is hard and everyone has settled into a comfort zone.
“Think about running 25 miles per hour and taking your body in the air and then the ground,” Lewis said. “It is torture. A lot of people can’t take the physical demands, and they can’t take the technical part of it. If you can get through those two aspects, you get to the third stage — the fear factor. To jump far, you have to leave the board in a way that you feel like you could land on your face.”
Many wonder how Usain Bolt would perform with a decent amount of training in the long jump. For years, Powell has thought the Jamaican has all the tools to become the first man to jump nine meters — with the right coaching.
“He could easily do it in a year if I was working with him,” Powell said. “The main thing for him is just getting him to learn how to land. … The long jump is about turning speed into vertical lift — speed times height equals distance. He’s the tallest guy back there [6 feet, 5 inches], the fastest guy ever, and he can jump [search “Bolt dunking” on YouTube]. The only reason he shouldn’t do it is because he could get hurt.”
It is very doubtful Bolt would consider the long jump.
A more curious case is that of German Markus Rehm, who jumped a personal best 7.35m in 2012 and improved to 8.24m this year.
Rehm, 26, jumps off a prosthetic right leg. He won Paralympic gold in 2012 and the able-bodied German National Championships this year. But Germany’s track and field federation left him off its roster for the European Championships, citing a possible competitive advantage.
“It wouldn’t be fair,” if Rehm breaks the world record, Powell said. “But it would be sweet to see.”
Another matter up for debate is this question: Who is the greatest long jumper of all time?
Is it Powell, who had the single greatest jump in history?
Is it Lewis, who had the greatest series of jumps in history, and the longest stretch of dominance, with four Olympic gold medals?
Is it Beamon, the man who set the standard by taking the event into uncharted territory?
Is it Owens, who held the world record for 25 years?
“Who do I think is the greatest of all time? That’s for other people to say,” Lewis said, adding, “If I hadn’t come along, I don’t think the event would have changed.”
Powell said it’s Lewis.
“He was kicking everybody’s butt for almost 10, 12, 15 years,” Powell said. “Carl was the reason why the record got broken because he was the segue between Bob and me.
“But I’m second.”
Beamon said it’s Powell.
“What do you mean by the greatest? What are the ingredients that go into it?” Beamon said. “To me, it’s Mike.”
Lewis and Powell must both live with holes in their careers, thanks to each other.
Lewis is the second-most decorated Olympic track and field athlete ever with 10 medals, including nine golds and four in the long jump.
He doesn’t regret missing the long jump world record as much as he does being left off the U.S. Olympic 4x100m relay team at Atlanta 1996. Lewis hoped to shoot for a record-breaking 10th Olympic track and field gold medal, despite finishing eighth in the 100m at the Olympic Trials.
The U.S. won silver without him, .36 behind Canada, a margin so great that Lewis’ presence wouldn’t have made a difference.
Powell is one of the greatest track and field athletes never to win an Olympic gold medal. His silver medal-winning distance behind Lewis in 1992 would have won every subsequent Olympic long jump competition.
Powell said he wouldn’t trade his world record for three of Lewis’ gold medals. Four? Maybe.
“I’m always going to be upset because I didn’t win the gold medal, and that was my goal,” Powell said.
Lewis feels “horrible” for Powell. Beamon does too.
“When I see Mike, I say to myself, you know, as great as an athlete he was and having the greatest distance of all of us, including the great Carl Lewis, I was wishing that he would have had that opportunity to win a gold medal in the Olympic Games,” Beamon said. “That’s the ultimate. I’m wondering how Mike really feels about that, if he felt like that was the only thing missing from him being recognized as being the great one.”
In two years, Powell will likely pass Owens for owning the long jump world record for the longest stretch of time.
Also in two years, Beamon hopes a documentary in production about his life, “Behind the 8.9,” will come out. It would celebrate Beamon’s longest-standing Olympic track and field record in advance of the Rio 2016 Games. After his competitive career, he did some TV work and became a director of an Olympians museum in Florida.
“I guess I never really retired,” Beamon said. “I am an ambassador to adidas. I have a contract with the IOC. I stay busy.”
Lewis and Powell are still chasing the long jump record – as coaches.
Lewis is an assistant under Leroy Burrell at the University of Houston, his alma mater. Remember, Lewis beat Burrell in the 1991 World Championships 100m, taking back the 100m world record from Burrell.
“My legacy as a long jumper will not be how far I jumped,” Lewis said. “My legacy will be how far the people I coached jumped. I’m putting that pressure on myself.”
Powell teaches at the Academy of Speed in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif.
“I want to see the record broken because I’m a fan of the sport,” Powell said. “If I’m coaching him [the man to break the world record], I’m going to be really happy. My goal is to get somebody.”
Powell and Lewis returned to Japan for a sports summit in March 2013. There, a TV station asked Powell to long jump in an exhibition against “some in-shape, 37-year-old dude,” Powell said.
The request surprised Powell, but he took part anyway, jumped 18 feet and almost hurt himself. Powell was 247 pounds and motivated by the embarrassment.
He’s lost 55 pounds in the last 18 months and dunked off two feet on his 50th birthday last November.
Powell is feeling so fit that he’s training again with an eye on breaking the long jump world record — the Masters world record for age 50 and over. That’s 6.84 meters, or 22 feet, 5 1/4 inches. He’ll go after it in New Zealand early next year.