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Taking Her Sweet Time
Sarah Boxer
May 23, 1988
Perennial late starter Gwen Torrence came to sprinting reluctantly; now she's easing her way to the Olympics
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May 23, 1988

Taking Her Sweet Time

Perennial late starter Gwen Torrence came to sprinting reluctantly; now she's easing her way to the Olympics

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It was about the same time that Torrence began to make her presence known on the indoor track scene. In 1986, she won her first indoor NCAA championship, in Oklahoma City. At long last, she was beginning to realize that "track and field had opened a lot of doors."

Before college, says Torrence, "I was stuck on black and white. I was prejudiced. Whites used to scare me because they were so white I associated them with ghosts." But during the freshman track team's orientation, "a white woman from Canada was drinking something and asked if I wanted some. I said, 'Why? Are you really going to give it to me?' She gave me her drink. Then she drank after me without wiping it off, and I drank after her without wiping it off. I asked her about it, and she said, 'What's the difference? Lips are lips.' That opened my eyes."

Since then, Torrence has traveled around the world—to Japan, where "people give presents and want nothing back"; to "the civilized part of Germany, where they have Burger King"; to the Soviet Union, where "nobody smiles, and people laugh at our clothes"; to Italy, where "words don't describe how good-looking the men are."

Torrence has come a long way, resistantly. But of all the changes she has gone through, she believes the turning point in her career came only when she beat 1984 Olympic gold medalist Ashford in the 1986 Millrose Games, setting a meet record of 6.57 seconds for 55 meters. "Before that I was running good times, but nobody noticed because I hadn't beat Evelyn," she says.

Which brings up Torrence's present task—dethroning Ashford. Can she do it? No one doubts Torrence's speed. "The concern is how long she can maintain it," says her Georgia coach, Lewis Gainey. "It's a question of strength."

"I believe that at 55 meters Gwen is going full tilt," says Bonner. "If she accelerated in the 100 the way she does in the 55, her body would explode."

Torrence, too, has qualms about longer distances. Even though she thinks she has a better chance of winning the 200 than the 100, she complains that in the 200, "you get butt-lock." And lest anyone think that pain is not the issue, note that Torrence wears clip-on earrings because she doesn't want to have her ears pierced. "I hate pain," she says.

Pain and Ashford are but two of the things standing in Torrence's way to the Olympic team. There are also sprint specialists Griffith, Marshall, Brown and Gail Devers, and, of course, the most frightful nemesis of all, Gwen Torrence.

In her best I-care-but-what-can-I-do manner, Torrence says, "God just gave us a little more speed, but on the day of the finals, one of us will have to be faster than the rest." She has no tricks to make sure she's the one. "I'm not into psyching," she says. "I just run."

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