At 35, three-time Olympian Gail Devers is having the finest outdoor season of her career
At an instructional clinic in Palo Alto, Calif., last month Gail Devers was shooting out of the blocks too quickly for her young audience. "Once more, Miss Devers," a teenage voice implored. "We can't see how you do it."
"Don't make me explain again," Devers said, laughing. "Age does bad things for your memory."
In Devers's case it also does wonders for your hurdling. At 35, when her body should be encountering obstacles as formidable as the barriers on the track, Devers is enjoying the finest outdoor season of her 19-year career. The two-time Olympic 100-meter champ is focusing on the 100-meter hurdles this season and has won nine races and clocked eight of the year's 12 fastest wind-legal times, including the world-leading 12.40 that she ran in Lausanne on July 2.
Training by herself on a high school track in Atlanta, Devers is relying more on videotape to straighten out technical imperfections and less on guidance from longtime coach Bob Kersee, now living in St. Louis, whom she calls only occasionally. "I'm seeing things from the tapes I didn't realize before," she says. "Now I can feel what I do and change it in mid-race."
Since her collapse over the final hurdle cost her a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics, Devers has struggled to shake the habit of throttling back and holding her arms closer to her side whenever she gets too close to a hurdle. "Now I tell myself to get the lead leg back down as quickly as possible. Don't float over the hurdles. Don't ease your speed," she says. "It's hard because your tendency when you feel close to the hurdles is to compensate by doing things that make you go slower."
Devers is trying to strengthen not only her technique but also her sport. "Especially in the States, track and field is dying," she says. "If you don't change it, that's your fault." She has put on premeet clinics around the U.S. and in Europe, addressing young foreign athletes abroad with "Boo!" and "Yea!" when evaluating technique. She recently received a diamond for breaking a track record in Stockholm's 90-year-old Olympic Stadium and will soon auction it off to help pay for the resurfacing of the track at her high school in National City, Calif.
Devers may come into more riches by the end of the season. Should she win the final three Golden League meets in Europe, she'll earn a piece of the $500,000 jackpot that will be divided by those athletes who win their event at all seven league meets. Not bad for a woman who just keeps getting better with age.
IAAF Belt Tightening
Golden League To Be Downsized
Financial woes have hit the once thriving European track circuit. Athlete appearance fees are down roughly 25% this season, and not just because this is the one year out of the next four without a world championship or a Summer Olympics. "It's part of the general malaise hitting international sport," says Nick Davies, spokesman for the IAAF, the sport's governing body. The IAAF has had difficulty selling a television package of its Golden League series of seven European meets. Next year, in order to streamline the prize-money series for TV, the IAAF will reduce it to five or six meets.