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As far as the U.S. women's team was concerned, the only difference between last week's track meet against the U.S.S.R. in the Richmond Coliseum and the 10 that preceded it was that this was the first to be held indoors. Of the previous 10, the Russians had won nine. Laughing. "We might get three firsts," said Grant Dungee, one of the U.S. coaches. He ticked them off: Patty Johnson in the 60-yard hurdles; Iris Davis in the 60-yard dash; Martha Watson in the long jump.
As usual, the fond hope was that the U.S. men's team, which had won eight of the 10 earlier meets, would pile up enough points for an overall victory. Fat chance. The U.S. women had not only lost in the past, they had lost so badly that the U.S. men had been able to overcome the deficit just twice. And this time the U.S. women's hopes resided in a bunch of girls.
On the morning of the meet, four members of the kiddie corps sat in a downtown Richmond restaurant and pondered their fate. The oldest was Kathy Gibbons, 17, of Phoenix, who would run the anchor leg on the two-mile-relay team. The youngest was Sue Parks, 15, of Ypsilanti, Mich., who would run the first leg. Then there were Carol Hudson, who was entered in the half, and Debbie Heald, who would be in the mile against Russia's Tamara Pangelova, 26, and Ludmila Braghina, 28. Carol, of Highland, N. Mex., and Debbie, of La Mirada, Calif., are 16. Earlier this month, Pangelova set the world indoor record for 1,500 meters (4:14.6) in the European championships. Braghina was second.
As well as adolescence, the four teenagers had another common bond: fear. But they were young enough to be amused by it. Their thoughts skipped from Debbie's inability to read 70 pages of biology homework, to the previous night's pillow fight, to the drunks who kept them awake by singing Irish songs, to the town going to bed at 10 p.m. and, apparently, taking Richmond's supply of Coke with it. And always to the Russians.
"You go against the Russians and you hope to catch them on an off-day," said Debbie. "I figure I'll finish fourth."
Kathy shrugged. "You can't expect miracles."
"I don't have a totally negative attitude," Debbie said. "Something could happen."
Kathy looked doubtful. "They're so strong. But give us four more years."
"If people would only wait for us to grow up," Debbie said.
"People don't understand what we're up against," said Sue. "They want to know why we don't win. In Berkeley last year I jumped the best I ever had, but I finished last. What am I supposed to do? The Russian high-jumps six feet and right now I can't. And people criticize me."