Twenty years ago, three of track's most enduring records were set amid the controversy of the Mexico City Olympiad, and Lee Evans was at the center of both the records and the turmoil.

Within the last two months, one of Evans' records (400 meters) has been broken and another tied (the 4 x 400 meters relay), but, once viewed unkindly by the track establishment, he remains one of his sport's most quietly committed proponents. He currently serves as the director of athletics for Special Olympics International, based in Washington, training coaches and volunteers.

Evans first gained national attention as both a premier sprinter and an activist at San Jose State University. He and fellow Olympic sprinters Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and Ronnie Ray Smith, teammates at San Jose State, formed the nucleus of arguably the best U.S. Olympic track team ever assembled.

The San Jose contingent was at the center of an Olympic boycott proposal by black American athletes. The boycott never came to fruition, but some athletes made personal yet well-publicized protests upon receiving their Olympic medals. Unfortunately for those men and their Olympic teammates, their achievements tended to be overshadowed by their well chronicled raised fists.

Evans explained it simply: "In 1968, we were involved in the social revolution here in the States. The Olympics are an extension of their environment. There were black athletes on the Olympic team, so, naturally, some of the things that were happening in the community were going to come to the Olympics."

Any cloud surrounding the Mexico City Games has long since cleared to reveal three of track's golden and longest standing records -- Bob Beamon's 29 feet 2 1/2 inch long jump, Evans' 43.86 in the 400-meter final run just minutes after Beamon's leap, and the Evans-anchored, gold medal winning 4 x 400 relay time of 2:56.16.

While Beamon's record still stands, Evans' was broken August 18 by Seoul Olympic silver medalist Butch Reynolds at a pre-Olympic meet in Zurich, Switzerland. Then, at Seoul, the American 4 X 400 team, led by Reynolds, tied the relay time run in Mexico City.

Evans, in his first interview since then, expressed relief that his mark had, after 19 years, been erased. "I'm happy he broke it, because the record had sort of been taken away from me already," he explained. "It had lasted so long, people had started to say it was because it was in Mexico City {at altitude}, or 'Was he on drugs?' I was tired of the speculating on altitude."

Altitude -- long considered a friend of sprinters and jumpers because the thin air provides little resistance -- is, according to Evans,

no ally in the 400-meter event, the longest sprint. It makes breathing difficult late in the race.

"I didn't get tired at sea level, but I felt tired at Mexico City after 300 meters," he said. "If the bear {a symbolic reference to the extra weight a 400-meter runner feels at race's end} gets on your back at 300 meters at sea level, at altitude he gets on your back with bricks in his pockets."

As far as drug usage -- the specter cast over the Seoul Olympic Games -- Evans knew of none in 1968. "But in 1972 there were some guys in my event who I knew were using drugs," he contends.

Evans went to Munich in 1972 as a member of the 4 x 400 meter relay squad, but never got a chance to run because two teammates were suspended and another was injured.

His competitive career over, Evans, a Fulbright Scholar in sociology, turned to coaching and went to Africa to do it.

He spent 10 years traveling through 16 countries spreading the gospel of proper training and technique to athletes and coaches. Evans spent two years in Cameroon and six in Nigeria where he helped coach their 4 x 400 meter relay team to an Olympic bronze in Los Angeles.

Innocent Egbunike, another Nigerian protege of Evans, is one of the best 400 meter runners in the world, and, ironically, was the pace setter when Reynolds broke Evans' record.

His commitment to African athletes fulfilled, Evans returned to the United States where, as "fate" would have it, he joined the Special Olympics program. As a graduate student at San Jose State, Evans' first coaching experience was working with five Special Olympians as part of an adaptive physical education course. He then worked as a Special Olympics volunteer every year until he went overseas.

Upon his return to the United States, Evans was informed of the position at the Special Olympics headquarters by Ron Freeman, an Olympic teammate and "training buddy" who is involved in the New Jersey Special Olympics. Evans termed his most recent move a "natural progression" and equates his best experience in Africa with his introduction to the Special Olympics.

"The best feeling I've had in coaching was when my athletes from Nigeria won the bronze medal in the 4 x 400 relay in Los Angeles," he said. "But that's the same experience I had when I saw my Special Olympic athlete win the high jump in the first Special Olympics they had in San Jose, California in 1969. Those are the two high points of my coaching career."