Dennis Mitchell, two-time 100-meter bronze medalist in the World Championships, injured his left quadricep Saturday, throwing the U.S. 400 relay team into disarray.
So much disarray that the Americans were thinking of even drafting women's sprinter Gwen Torrence for the relay.More likely candidates, however, are Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson, Jeff Williams and Tony McCall.
Ironically, the U.S. team is scrambling to piece together a relay team, whereas in the past there has been such a wealth of talent that squabbling for positions has been the norm.
After Mitchell pulled up about 40 meters into the 100 heats, speculation quickly grew over who would replace him as anchor on the team. With Lewis, the first alternate, injured and a question mark, the next name presented was Williams, a member of the 200-meter team.
Then it was mentioned that Johnson, who already is scheduled to run the 200 and 400 individual races and the 1,600 relay, had indicated he would run the relay if asked.
Whoever it is, would join Maurice Greene, Mike Marsh and Jon Drummond on the relay.
"If Carl is OK, stick him in Dennis' place," Marsh, the U.S. 100-meter champion and 1992 Olympic 200 gold medalist, said after winning his opening heat in 10.27 seconds and his quarterfinal in a wind-aided 10.03.
"Probably the next best sprinter after Jeff is Gwen."
Marsh obviously wasn't aware of Johnson's availability.
Drummond was, and he said he would welcome either Johnson. Or even Torrence.
"The world wants to see that," Drummond said of Johnson running another race, "so it would be great for the world. I wouldn't mind Michael Johnson being there. He's qualified.
"If it takes somebody to go ask him, I'll go over there now. I'll ask him personally. `Yo, Michael, you want to run?' But I ain't the coaches."
Coach Harry Groves said he wouldn't "want to put him (Johnson) on the spot. He's doing enough already."
Torrence, the U.S. 100 and 200 champion, already is ticketed to run four races - both sprints and both relays.
"I'll give the stick to Gwen and I guarantee you we'll win," Drummond said, continuing the joke. "I am confident she can run a 9.9 with a running start."
Lewis, a member of the long jump team, had a brief workout Saturday, gingerly testing his injured left hamstring.
"In his mind, there is a possibility he could be ready for Friday," Mike Takaha, a U.S. press officer said, referring to the long jump qualifying. "He's making progress."
Lewis said earlier he could sprint much easier than he could long jump.
If he enters the long jump, he must declare by Tuesday. If he does not declare by then, he still could run the relay. If he enters and doesn't jump, he would be ineligible to run the first round of the relay next Saturday under the sport's "honest effort" rule.
Williams has earned bronze medals in the 100 at the 1991 Pan American Games and in the 200 at the 1992 World Cup. McCall, 21, never has run on an international team.
The colorful Mitchell, nicknamed "The Mean Green Machine," was deeply disappointed that he could not reach the 100 final nor run on the relay, which the U.S. has won at all four previous championships.
Asked to assess the rest of the 100 field for the final, he said, "I assess it without Dennis Mitchell. One of those lanes belongs to me - and I'm going to get it back."
About the relay, he said, "My first thought is to give the U.S. the best opportunity to win a medal - and that's not going to be with me."
Mitchell, who first injured the leg last Monday during practice at Monte Carlo, Monaco, said he felt very good warming up Saturday.
"The wick was lit then," he said, referring to Monday. "I didn't blow it up then. But somebody lit the wick today.
"I felt excellent warming up. This was my best day yet."
Mitchell, ranked No. 1 in the world last year, didn't get much of a chance to show his prowess Saturday. After about five steps, his leg cramped and he was forced to stop, before limping off the track.
"When I was doing starts at Monte Carlo, I caught a small cramp," Mitchell said. "I didn't think it was anything to be concerned about. Today, it escalated into something I couldn't handle.
"But I'll be back."
At Monte Carlo July 25, the team of Greene, Drummond, Marsh and Mitchell ran 38.25, the fastest in the world this year.
Marsh was the only American to advance to Saturday's semifinals of the 100, as Greene finished sixth in his quarterfinal heat. It was one of the few times in a major championship that two Americans were eliminated so early.
Among those joining him were defending champion Linford Christie of Britain; Canadians Donovan Bailey, the 1995 world leader, and world indoor 60-meter champion Bruny Surin, and Ato Boldon of Trinidad and Tobago, who had the fastest legal time, 10.04, into a 0.5 meters per second headwind.
"It was the best start I've ever had in my life," Boldon, a senior at UCLA and the NCAA 200-meter champion, said after setting a national record.
There were two finals Saturday, the opening day of competition.
Manuela Machado of Portugal, taking the lead two-thirds into the race, won the women's marathon in a career-best 2 hours, 25 minutes, 39 minutes, the second-fastest time in the world this year. Machado, the silver medalist at the 1993 Championships, blew kisses to the spectators as she came down the finish line at sun-drenched Ullevi Stadium.
And Germany's Astrid Kumbernuss won the women's shot put at 69 feet, 71/2 inches, her career best and the farthest in the world this year.
Meanwhile, defending champion Gail Devers had the day's fastest time in the women's 110 hurdles, 12.67 in the semifinals, in advancing to Sunday's final. Olga Shishigina of Kazakhstan, the 1995 world leader, won the other semifinal in 12.77.
Johnson, the defending 400 champion, won his opening heat in an eased-up 45.49, as did world record-holder Butch Reynolds (45.60).
And all three American men won their 800-meter heats - Jose Parrilla (1:46.32), Mark Everett (1:48.06) and Brandon Rock (1:46.83).