Friday morning came up like any other winter Friday in Grenoble: with a wet, gray chill that hung in the air like puree of fog. There was Dianne warming up, with a look of pure anguish, in bulky sweat pants and with her early- Joan Baez hair all jammed up under her knit cap. She was half leaning forward as though her stomach hurt. Which it did.
Then the Russian mystery woman appeared, wearing a look of beautiful blonde innocence, in a coat lined with white fur. She turned out to be Tatiana Sidorova, who had been training at altitude in secret for a year.
Speed skating at 500 meters is quick and torturous, a race run in pairs, and Meyers, skating in a low, powerful crouch, provided the first hint of what was to come. But why not? She had approached the race with just the proper U.S. attitude. "I was numb," she said.
She came winging across the finish line in 46.3 seconds, certainly not an Olympic (45.0) or a world (44.4) record, but not bad for skating against a wind that, not far away on top of the hill at Chamrousse, was blowing skiers off the trail. It put her in first spot and, stunned, she went over to a nearby bench, plunked down, stared moodily into the smog and listened for the other times.
"Speed skating," Mary said, "is a sort of love-hate relationship. I like the skating part but I cannot stand the get-ting-in-shape part. I can never go through it again."
Minutes later Russia's mystery girl skated with a touch too much Mitzi Gay-nor and not enough Jim Ryun and finished in 46.9, which effectively hid her away back in ninth place. It also caused a stir in the Russian press corps, whose members had been loyally following her around.
"So what happened to your mystery woman?" one photographer was asked.
"Bad ice," he explained loftily. Then Titova stepped up. She is a big, rangy girl, the sort who would be an instant hit in a Chicago roller derby. "I was preparing myself to beat Meyers," she said. She did, of course, in 46.1, scrambling around the rink with long strides, looking vaguely like Fran Tarkenton coming up the middle, and she moved into an unshakable lead.
Full of magic blue pills from the little black bag of Daniel F. Hanley, the team doctor, Holum added her bit to history. "I think Titova is the nicest and prettiest of all the Russians," she said, "but...," implying that it is just a matter of time until the two meet on some future ice rink in a duel to the death. This time it was close, at that. Dianne took off and came zinging in, skates flashing, in 46.3.
"Look, two Americans are tied. Isn't that cute?" everybody said. And that left it all up to Jennifer Fish.