"I was gonna try to get control of the drug problem some kind of way," Torrence says now. "I was hoping I would win and the message would've come across better. What bothered me was that people came up to me afterward and said, 'This wasn't the place or the time.' And I'm like, 'Why are you guys afraid? You know there's a problem.' "
What was more amazing was that Torrence came back and won the Olympic 200 five days later, with torrents of rage aimed at her by the world's sprinters and track press. Talk about stubborn.
"I looked at myself in the mirror, and I kissed myself on both shoulders," Torrence says about those days in Barcelona. "I knew I had done nothing wrong. When track is all over for me, I want to still have my kidneys and my liver. I don't want to develop some disease because I wanted to win a race."
It is good that Torrence likes herself, because she is about as popular on the women's track scene as bunions. "Nobody likes her," says Cuthbert. "Nobody on her own team likes her! She's the biggest bitch in track. I'd like to kick Gwen's butt, I swear. If she says one more thing to me, I will."
If this sounds childish, it's because childishness is at the heart of the 100-meter event. Every little girl sprinted on field day in kindergarten; the winner got a blue ribbon. Then the girls all went on to other things. But sprinters somehow became defined by their talent. The faster you were, the slower you got to walk, the more daring you got to dress. And since the race takes only 11 seconds, the competition among sprinters seems to stretch out in other, odd ways. Cuthbert and Torrence, for instance, seem to have a vogue-a-thon going, with Cuthbert ahead right now in Skimpiest Leotard and Torrence way ahead in Coolest Hair Weaves. ("This one I've got on right now?" Torrence says. "Three hundred fifty dollars.") It's pretty much a dead heat in Vicious Quotes.
None of that gets to Torrence. But last summer something got to her. At the World Championships in Göteborg she was disqualified in the 200, which she won by four meters, for stepping out of her lane. When the DQ was announced, there were cheers from the Jamaican team and delegation, including second-place finisher Merlene Ottey, then Torrence's idol, who was declared the winner and who then ripped Torrence in a press conference. That made Torrence cry. She is a crier anyway. She cries over Little House on the Prairie. You should have seen her dissolve in tears on the victory stand in Barcelona at the playing of the national anthem after her victory in the 200. But the '95 worlds were one of the few occasions she let the poisons of the track world get to her tear ducts. "Merlene called me a cheater," Torrence says. "That hurt me inside."
But she has had time to think about the Jamaicans and all the other people who would love to see her fall on the bottom of her USA racing skin this summer in Atlanta. "My preacher said something in church the other day," Torrence says. "He said, 'How can a person like you when they don't like themselves?' When somebody has no reason on this earth to dislike me, they must dislike themselves."
Torrence is trying to be more careful these days, trying to think things out before she speaks to reporters, trying to bite her lip and unball her fists before proceeding. "She's just now learning how to control herself, to not let her background creep up like a monster, like an evil twin," says Davis. "Because one side of Gwen is really great, and the other side is an awful person."
The problem is, Ms. Awful Person gets most of the press. "Oh, yeah, the media love that type of stuff," Torrence says, staring at Danny! (special guest: Divine Brown). "They have an obsession with the bad. I'm sorry I'm not this bad person people want me to be. I'm a much better person." And if she had to go on one of those talk shows to tell her side of the story? "Oprah" she says. "Definitely Oprah." ("Widely Hated Track Divas.")
All of this is what makes Torrence the Reluctant Olympic Heroine. But look at it from her side. If you had a brother who could not run, could not walk, could use only his wrists, neck and head, would you want the world to make a big deal out of how fast you make it from one end of a football field to the other?