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A PAIR OF ACES
Merrell Noden
October 16, 1989
A smashing couple on and off the track, David and Sandra Patrick have made hurdling history
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October 16, 1989

A Pair Of Aces

A smashing couple on and off the track, David and Sandra Patrick have made hurdling history

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Let us look, for as long as modesty permits, at the warmest moment of last month's cold and damp World Cup track meet in Barcelona. Shortly after being presented with his gold medal for winning the 400-meter hurdles, David Patrick huddled in the gloom and watched as his wife, Sandra Farmer-Patrick, ran down Olympic silver medalist Tatyana Ledovskaya in the stretch to win her 400-meter hurdles race. The Patricks of Pflugerville, Texas, thus joined the Zatopeks, Emil and Dana, of Zlin, Czechoslovakia, as the only married couples ever to win individual gold medals at the same international championship. And the Patricks are the first to win them in the same event.

This called for a celebration. Patrick turned to the official escorting him. "Let me go out and give her a quick kiss on her victory lap," he pleaded Now, Patrick is a warm and earnest man, certainly not the type to deliberately mislead an official, so he breaks into a great wide grin as he recalls what followed. "It just so happened it took a little longer than that," he says.

First they kissed, lingeringly. Then they hugged. Then they jogged past a section full of boisterous Catalonian separatists and were showered with tiny red-and-yellow-striped flags. Sandra tossed her bouquet into the crowd, which went bananas. David picked up a flag and waved it over his head. The crowd went bananas all over again.

Who but Scrooge would begrudge the Patricks this very public display of affection? After all, this has been a year of redemption after the disappointments of last summer, when neither of them made the Olympic team. "I'm proud of the way she's conducted her life," says Fred Thompson, the director of the Colgate Women's Games, in which Farmer-Patrick began her running career at age 13. "Especially last year. That could have been the catastrophe of her life."

Sandra's nightmare began the day after David missed the Olympic team by a mere .03 of a second. His failure became all the more poignant when he mistakenly jogged the lap of honor accorded the three athletes who qualify for the Olympics in each event. But contrary to much of what has been written, Patrick was not disappointed. Despite the handicap of running in Lane 1, his time was 47.75, the fastest of his life.

"I had told myself that if I ran 47.7, I'd be happy, and I was," he says. "But I felt for my parents. They were there, and they knew I hadn't made the team."

Sandra's frustration was harder to cope with. What befell her was an incredible concatenation of if-only's:

•If only she had decided to run for her native Jamaica, as she had at both the 1984 Olympics (she finished eighth) and the '87 World Championships (fourth), instead of trying to steal a berth from a "true" American, as some people complained she was doing. But, says Farmer-Patrick, "they didn't realize that I'd grown up in the United States. I was raised eating, living and drinking as an American. I wanted to represent the United States."

•If only it hadn't rained so hard in Indianapolis the day of her semifinal; the officials, deciding Lane 1 was too wet to be used, moved everyone out a lane, but Farmer-Patrick says no one informed her of the change. She stepped onto the track with the number 5 on her hip, assuming she was still to run in Lane 5, the lane she had been assigned the night before. She was the last runner to take her mark, and she settled into the only vacant lane, Lane 6, thinking it was Lane 5.

•If only she hadn't noticed that the number on the track didn't correspond to the number on her hip. When Farmer-Patrick rounded the first turn and hit the backstretch, she looked down and saw, in the baffling mess of crisscrossing lines, a huge painted 5, but it wasn't painted in her lane. Horrified, she veered from Lane 6 into Lane 5 and ran the backstretch there. Only after jumping three hurdles on the back-stretch did she hear Schowonda Williams, who would eventually win the final, shout, "Sandy, you're in my lane!" She veered back into Lane 6.

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