"I feel like I can win both sprints. All I have to do is get out of the blocks." -- James Gilkes

Or into them. The unseen forces behind so much of sport-politics and economics -- have kept one of the world's fastest men from the sort of Olympian glory he so covets and senses is entirely possible.

If the blesses weather here takes pity on him.

At 20 in 1972, Gilkes met the Olympic qualifying standards in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes. But Guyana's athletic budget would stretch only far enough to send its top three athletes to the Munich games. He was No. 4.

"Behind a cyclist and two boxers," he said in the Olympic Village today. "The cyclist won the semifinals, but was disqualified. One of the boxers couldn't make the weight and the other one lost in the quarterfinals."

Gilkes was smiling. Eight years is long enough to heal that degree of ego bruise, and he admits: "I was not that keen then." He was before the 1976 Games, and thought a bronze and gold medal close enough to be mentally framed.

The morning before the opening ceremonies those fantasies vanished.

"A team meeting was called," Gilkes said, his animated face grim. "We were told we were walking out (in support of the other Black African nations' boycott). It was a terrible blow, to be so close, to have been in the village for almost a week, to have trained so hard and been in such good shape.

"I had used most of my life savings (on an operation for bursitis) earlier in the year. I was supposed to graduate (from Southern California) the semester before, but I delayed it, took a lighter load to concentrate on winning the Olympics.

"It would have been easy for me. All I had to worry about in the 200 was (Don) Quarrie. I was very confident of winning, because we'd gone to the same college and had the same coach. We knew each other."

Left unsaid was the implication that Jamaican Quarrie knew Gilkes was better.

"I wasn't concentrating on the 100," Gilkes continued. "But I was sure I'd make top three."

With Gilkes walking away from the Games and Steve Williams limping away from the American trials, the Montreal sprint field was reduced to a Caribbean bruise. Hasley Crawford of Trinidad won the 100; Quarrie took the 200.

The Americans are boycotting these games, but Gilkes cannot summon the inspiration to support them, although he is close to most of the superior runners. Having put off his undergraduate degree at USC for the '76 Games, he was put off final work for his master's for the '80 Games.

"They're going through what I went through," Gilkes said. "I saw a lot of them start the year well -- and then plunge when it (the boycott) was announced. It was a steep plunge. But I feel especially sorry for Guy Abrahams (of Panama).

"His team pulled out five days after the AAUs."

The AAUs actually were the Athletics Congress championships shortly before the U.S. Olympics Trials in Eugene, Ore. Gilkes emphasizes he lost the 100 to Stanley Floyd by the tiniest margin, perhaps an early defense against charges of tarnished gold should he win the shortest sprint here.

Gilkes was considering his Olympian misfortune in a cafe-like setting at the village. Recorded Soviet band music was intruding over nearby speakers. A rose decorated the table on which he rested his hands. His mind was a few feet away, on the chill wind and rain.

"I don't like rain," he said, "and it takes me ages to warm up in the cold. And another thing The finals of both events are at night. Moscow at night is not for sprinters." Gilkes considered yet another bad omen:

"They've changed the spring scheduled for this Olympics. It used to be twice the first day in the 100 and the semifinals and finals the second day. Then there'd be two heats of the 200 the next day and then a day of rest. The fifth day would be the semis and finals of the 200.

"I'm in better position when everyone is tired, because I'm the strongest of all sprinters. If everyone ran four days in a row, no one would touch me. I planned for so many years for the way it was. Now it's four races for the 100 (in two days), rest and four races for the 200.

"The way it used to be, all nearly everyoned did that rest day was rest. Then they'd be too stiff to run those last two races (in his favorite event). I had it all worked out."

He paused, then added: "I think I'm losing my advantage."

Perhaps not. Gilkes has seen the track here, and fallen in love with it. The wide turns will help him stay close to the early burners in the 200. Also, the track is exceedingly fast.

Moscow is obessed with records.

"I think there is more pressure on me than any athlete here," Gilkes said. I'm older than all the sprinters (he will be 28 in September) I've had two dislocated shoulders (neither as a result of running). I'm depending solely on my wife for money.

"I'd been working, going to school and training each day. Which meant I was about dead at night. So she told me I should quit the job (as a manager for Xerox in Los Angeles) and she would take the burden.

"She is not an athletic person, but she realizes how much I want this. It is very, very personal."