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Leap Year Feats
Merrell Noden
March 09, 1992
Olympic aspirants made strong showings at the Mobil meet
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March 09, 1992

Leap Year Feats

Olympic aspirants made strong showings at the Mobil meet

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Speed, in fact, dominates Dees's life. He is, by his own description, a "roller coaster adventurer" who can compare the finer points of roller coasters from Puerto Rico to California. He is also a drag racer who competes up and down Florida's west coast in Gangster, his '67 Chevy Beretta, which covers the quarter mile in slightly less than 10 seconds at a top speed of 142 mph. Dees does a pretty good job of rationalizing this latter hobby as training. "Drag racing is foot-eye coordination," he says. "Track is foot-ear coordination. They enhance each other by refining my reaction time."

The women's 800 included one of track's fastest rising stars—Maria Mutola, a powerful 19-year-old from Mozambique who finished fourth at the '91 world championships in a world junior (19 and under) record of 1:57.63. Mutola is a senior at Springfield (Ore.) High, thanks to an International Olympic Committee program that places athletes from developing countries who wish to train abroad. Mutola had never run on the boards until this year. But that's hardly a daunting challenge for someone who a year ago moved to a country where she knew no one and couldn't speak the language.

Mutola led past 400 in 58.9, but with a lap to go, Meredith Rainey pulled just behind her. When they bumped on the final turn, Rainey lost momentum and Mutola won in 2:01.49. That not only broke the meet record but also eclipsed Mary Slaney's 18-year-old national high school mark. This summer, if Mutola is healthy—she only recently recovered from a stress fracture in her right leg—and gains more racing experience, she should be a favorite in the Olympic 800.

Mutola, whose English is improving rapidly, does not know yet whether she'll compete for a U.S. college or run on the international circuit for money. "She comes from a poor country," says Jeff Fund, whose wife, Margo, is Mutola's high school coach. "It may be more important to make herself financially secure than to get a college degree."

For now, though, Mutola looks forward to returning to the familiar world of outdoor track and the bigger challenges she'll find there this summer.

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