NO ONE WHO saw the movie the Japanese made of the Tokyo Olympics in 1964 will forget the slow-motion pictures of Bob Hayes. Mr. Hayes, known then and after as "the world's fastest human," set the Olympic record and tied the world record that year for running the 100-meter dash in 10 seconds flat. (That was slow for Mr. Hayes, who had run the semifinal heat in 9.9, but the time was not allowed because of too strong a tailwind.) Then he went out and ran the last leg of the 400-meter relay, chugging from fifth place to first, and covering his 100 meters in 8.6 seconds. The numbers are astonishing enough, but Mr. Hayes was more so, as that movie showed: a man who gained speed like a train, only quicker; the arms pumping, synchronized with the legs; the massive chest bursting through walls only the mind saw, the mind that told the body there was nothing it could not do.

Now the ideas of time and records have a different meaning for Mr. Hayes. On March 22, he was sentenced in Dallas to five years in prison for selling cocaine. Dallas was where he went after Tokyo, and where, with the Dallas Cowboys, he became the best long-pass-catching wide receiver in professional football, for 10 seasons. Then his life fell abruptly -- out of his first marriage, out of football, out of money and into dope-dealing, at a level serious enough to get him two five-year sentences that will run concurrently. There is no point in asking him to say it isn't so.

Several explanations have been offered for this sad fall of a hero, all of them undoubtedly true at least in part: That he had too much too soon. That his athletic career was over by the time he was still a young man, and unlike other professional athletes in similar boats, he could not handle the fact. But the one explanation that grates is that Mr. Hayes wasn't smart enough, or had insufficientpowers of discrimination to understand what he was headed for. Those who buy that theory know very little of what it takes to set a record, in sports or anywhere else. It is not the legs or arms or chest; it's nerve -- the mind, and the mind alone, urging your body to do what has never been done before, to discriminate very carefully (between the harmful and helpful) and to set aside everything in your way.

Mr. Hayes had the mind for that; and it is possible that when he ran out of goals, the idea of willpower were there, as they were in Tokyo. He simply chose not to call on them.