Jim Ryan tripped and fell during the 100 meter race in the Munich Olympics.

Steve Williams pulled up lame during the '76 Olympic trials.

Rey Robinson and Eddie Hart never even made it to the starting line for their heats in the '72 Games, because an assistant coach told them the wrong time.

All fallen Olympians inspire sympathy. But Garner-Babilonia seemed to touch a nationwide chord, for she walked into a press conference late today carrying a cardboard box filled with about 400 telegrams.

Even President Carter called, though an hour after they left the arena.

"He didn't leave his number," Gardner said.

Nor, presumably, did the dozens of agents who would have been pestering to market them had the gold-medal journey not run aground. Theirs might well have been a multi-million-dollar fall.

Tai also said that news of the death of her grandmother earlier in the week had been delayed until early this morning, no one wanting to further distract her before so unique and horrifying a moment. After staying relatively injury free for almost their entire 11 years of training -- separately until the last four -- Gardner was felled just at the peak of their athletic lives.

So Randy Gardner and Tai Babilonia have joined a group even more select than Olympic gold medal winners: potential gold medalists who have been denied what they had devoted nearly half a life-time of effort to achieve because of a cruel and sudden Olympic accident.

"Feelings?" Gardner said of his immediate reaction upon realizing, moments before the pairs figure-skating competition began Friday, that a groin injury would force a withdrawal. "Actually, I felt nothing. I didn't know whether to cry or laugh it off, whether to feel sorry for myself, for the others I'd let down or for Tai.

"I couldn't believe it was all happening."

The nightmare began two weeks ago, when Gardner tore a muscle high on the inside of his left leg while practicing a double flip. It was responding to treatment, he said, until he tried a slight variation during practice late Wednesday, reaggravated it and also pulled a muscle in the front of the leg, near the lower abdomen.

"It's something that happens to sprinters, also, and football players," said the U.S. Olympic team's doctor, Anthony Daly. "It's very difficult to do explosive actions, because there's no power, just no feeling."

And Gardner-Babilonia are the most inventive couple in their sport, five times U.S. champions and defending world champions, who have carried daring to a higher level than anyone.

Gardner's mind was not all that numb. After he knew for certain he would not be able to complete without it, Gardner took an injection of the pain-killer Xylocaine. It was a small one, said Daly, adding that although it required a letter to the International Olympic Committee, it was not among the 200 or so banned drugs.

The shot numbed more than the immediate area.

"It was the first time I'd experenced a shot like that, 15 minutes before competition," said Gardner, who fell three times and failed to complete two spin-lifts during one long warmup session and later was so tight Coach John Nicks motioned him off the ice. "I saw films today and couldn't believe my legs were so wide apart.

"I didn't feel that at all."

Could he anticipate each fall?

"Not really I couldn't feel the left leg. I just couldn't use it . . . I couldn't feel the positions I was in (but) I didn't feel that much pain."

The ever-present debate about drug use in sport touched Gardner, when his mother and another coach second-guessed the use of it."

"I wish now he had not had any medication," Mrs. Gardner said. "It would have been extremely painful, but he could have done it."

"That's what we all think," said Norma Shalin, coach of another Olympian, Charlie Tickner. "He should have gone on without medication. You're better off. If the shot was mainly for psychological reasons (as Daly said), why give it at all?"

In his defense of the "small amount of Xylocaine, Daly said: "It was a last-ditch thing. We'd only do it if it came down to withdrawal or tying it. I was not in favor. My heart was not in it . . . there was nothing else to do. It was either try it or withdraw (before even trying to skate)."

Gardner seemed to agree, adding he tried to practice earlier Friday "and then I decided I'd have to numb it."

They managed to mask the depth of their emotional crash. Still, they became more relaxed the more they spoke, revealing at one point an argument with Nicks about their future.

"He wants us to compete in '81," Gardner said. "We want to do other things. It's an argument we have to settle in the next couple of weeks (after it becomes clear whether they will be able to compete in the world championships March 11 in Germany).

"It's like what Tai said a couple seconds ago. We want to lead the life we've missed -- the high-school prom, going to the movies during the week, that type of thing."

Nicks interrupted.

"What they didn't say was about another argument. I thought they'd win the world championship if they skated together (in 1977). And they did. Physically, I'm certain they could compete (in the '84 Games). Mentally, I don't know.

"They'll be three years older, and I'm probably going to lose this argument."

Gardner plans to increase his class schedule at the University of Southern California and Babilonia said she will enroll there as a freshman majoring in interior design.

There have been whispers they would try out for cheerleading.

"It's a thought," she said suddenly animated for the first time. She glanced at Gardner, sitting immediately to her left. "It'd be fun."

Although the unlucky athletes were not so well known to Americans, each of the five days of competition here has produced sadness of Gardner-Bibilonia depth.

on of the favorites in the men's downhill Canadian Ken Read, lasted just 15 seconds before falling, after the bindings on his skis snapped.

"The problem of the Olympic downhill was beautifully illustrated today," he said, after walking down the course, his skis slung over his shoulder. "You come down, you're at the third gate, you ski comes off, you go down.

"It's over.

"There is just one race. A beautiful illustration, right? Unfortunately, it was illustrated by me."

On Friday in the Olympic press center, the tap-tapping drone was interrupted by a dozen passionate Italians cheering and hugging one another.

The reason: One of their countrymen was leading in the luge -- and before their startled and delighted eyes an a television monitor the favoared East German had fallen off his sled and tumbled down the ice into oblivion.

And that, as Ken Read might put it, illustrates yet another cruel Olympic reality. Every sadness makes somebody else happy.