Running in freezing weather this winter in the Washington, D.C., area, where she lives with Travis and her husband, Andrew Valmon, a 1992 Olympic 4X400-relay gold medalist, made her tough. Smart she has always been. In Atlanta, when she learned she'd drawn lane 1 for the final, she made a point of getting out fast rather then getting boxed in. Leading from the gun, she passed 400 in 58.36 and then pulled away powerfully over the last 100 meters to beat the runner-up, Michelle Ave, by seven meters, in 2:00.55. "If I can do two-flat running in front all the way I should run much faster in Japan," she said.
"Meredith has the itch that hasn't been sufficiently scratched yet. That's what keeps smart athletes like her coming back," says former Stanford women's coach Brooks Johnson, who has worked with Valmon. "The problem with athletes like that is they have so many options that they can get distracted. They know it's not the end of the world if they don't win. What Meredith has to do is become more monomaniacal."
That won't be easy for Valmon. A quietly intense honors graduate of Harvard, she has spent most of her 30 years dreaming about all the things she would still like to experience. She longs, for instance, to learn to play the beautiful old piano that belonged to her jazz musician grandfather and now sits in her living room in Silver Spring, Md.
Growing up in the tough Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, Meredith was a tiny track dynamo, a star member of the Atoms Track Club and a champion at the prestigious Colgate Women's Games. But she has always had a mind of her own, and at 12 she gave up running to devote herself to singing, dancing, volleyball and basketball. She had no intention of returning to track, but at Harvard her afternoons felt empty. "Besides," she says, "I wanted to lose weight." In 1989 she won the NCAA 800 title in Provo, Utah, and then raced to catch the red-eye back to New York, where she was to begin a summer internship the following morning at a law firm.
"I expect a lot from myself," says Valmon simply. Travis takes up most of her time these days, so she must schedule her activities cunningly. Driving to and from the track each day, she listens to French language tapes. But don't conclude she's self-absorbed. In 1993 she and Andrew, who now serves as her coach, founded a youth organization called the Avenue Program. It uses D.C.-area Olympians to teach disadvantaged youngsters, through clinics, essay contests and mentoring, that they have a broad range of options. Along with the two Valmons, participants include Alonzo Babers, the '84 Olympic 400 gold medalist who's now a commercial pilot, and Ron Freeman, who ran the fastest leg on America's '68 Olympics 4x400 team and now works in fund-raising for universities. "Athletes get us in the door," says Andrew, "but we have doctors, lawyers and poets, too—anyone who's a role model."
Certainly that includes Meredith, who seems to be doing a fine job of schooling the next generation of runners, in her clinics and at home. "I'm not sure Travis would be able to run straight from point to point," she says, laughing, "but I'd put him up against just about any other 19-month-old in the country."