Bob Kersee, the UCLA women's track coach, has been hearing a lot of "Your-money-or-your-wife?" questions the last few weeks. In April, Kersee's meal ticket, Bruins senior Gail Devers, set an American record of 12.71 seconds in the 100-meter hurdles. In early May, Kersee's wife and crowning glory, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, cut that to 12.70. Two weeks ago at the Pac-10 meet at UCLA's Drake Stadium, Devers reclaimed the mark with a blazing 12.61.
Devers and Joyner-Kersee train together, but they have not raced against each other all year, nor will they. Joyner-Kersee will concentrate on the heptathlon and long jump at the Olympic trials this summer. Devers will hurdle and sprint. But there remains the nagging question of who will have that U.S. hurdles record.
About the interplay of loyalties the situation evokes, Kersee the coach wisely maintains neutrality. "They're both capable of somewhere around 12.50, anyway," he says. The world record of 12.25 was set by Ginka Zagorcheva of Bulgaria last year.
On Saturday, at the Bruce Jenner Bud Light meet in San Jose, Joyner-Kersee swept cleanly over the first seven of the 10 hurdles. She then relaxed a little and, as she put it, "went all over the place." She held her form well enough to finish in—could it be?—12.61. The drama continues. She had matched Devers's mark. "That proves I'm perfectly fair, right?" said Bob Kersee, in relief.
The women's 100-meter hurdles was just one of several noteworthy performances at the Jenner meet. Perhaps the most unexpected was by James Robinson, who ran the fastest 800—1:45.50—of the year. Yes, the very same lag-and-kick James Robinson who chased Rick Wohlhuter to the national championship in 1974, who was a member of U.S. Olympic teams for the Montreal and Moscow Games and who finished an eyelash behind John Marshall for fourth in the L.A. Olympic trials—both were timed in 1:43.92. That failure to make a third straight Olympic squad seemed to have banked Robinson's competitive fires. The following season he entered only seven races; in '86 he ran a dozen times, but last season only three.
"But this year the eye of the tiger is back," said Robinson, from behind sunglasses so dark that it couldn't be verified. At 33 he is palpable evidence of the power of the Olympics to reignite not only dreams but tissue as well.
Or, in Mary Decker Slaney's case, to bind tissue together. In June 1987 she had a serious Achilles tendon operation, which killed all of last season for her. In May of the previous year she gave birth to a daughter, Ashley, which killed that season. So the last 3,000-meter race she had run was in Rome way back in September 1985, when she set her American record of 8:25.83.
On a windy day in San Jose, and tired from her training load, Slaney wasn't going to approach that performance, the second-best in history. But she was going to be her old self, opening a 20-meter lead after a lap, stretching her advantage to 50 meters by the mile and then slowing but giving no ground. "I saw her resting up there," said second-place finisher Mary Knisely, with faint envy.
"I didn't really mean to do that," Slaney said. "It takes a while to get back to a racing mentality."
Slaney won in 8:49.43, still the best time in the U.S. this year. As she was coming off the track, her eyes looked larger, her face leaner than in campaigns past. "Physically," she said, "I haven't felt this good in years. After my first race three weeks ago [a 1,500 meters in which she ran 4:09.14], I had the feeling that somebody up there had allowed me to run this race." All her tendon soreness and calf cramps of the spring had evaporated.