The fact is that while the Pan-Am Games were supposed to produce a brilliant confrontation between the Cuban and American men, what they really did was showcase rising U.S. stars.
No one took better advantage of that opportunity than Evelyn Ashford. She was on the 1976 Olympic team, but only in the last couple of months has she begun to show that she could return American women to the forefront of world sprinting ranks. Ashford completed a 100-200 double at the AAU meet to make the Pan-Am team in both events, then repeated that performance in the Games. At the AAUs she had become the second woman to run 100 meters in less than 11 seconds (she had a 10.97 in the semifinals). In San Juan she lowered Brenda Morehead's American 200 record by .15 of a second with a 22.45 semifinal heat. She took the final in 22.24 but her time was wind-aided.
Pat Connolly, Ashford's coach, has concentrated on building her strength by having her train at longer distances than normal for a sprinter. Connolly also has tried to add muscle to Ashford's calves by having her run in the sand at—where else?—Muscle Beach in Santa Monica. On weekends Ashford runs two miles along the shore in the hard sand, then works her way back by doing short sprints in the loose sand farther inland. To practice getting her knee lift higher she runs in shallow surf, although that isn't always as pleasant as it sounds. "I always trip in the water and fall down," she complains. But the work and the unscheduled dips in the ocean are beginning to pay off.
"Winning here at the Pan-Ams was important to me psychologically," she said. "Now I feel I'm the best in this part of the world. I only have the Eastern Europeans to worry about. I feel confident that I can compete with them in the 100 because I've gone under 11 seconds. But in the 200, which is my favorite race, I'm not there yet. I need to get down to 22 flat. (The world record of 21.71 is held by Marita Koch of East Germany.) I feel something inside me wants to come out. I feel I can go a lot faster. I think I can do that by the end of this summer."
By the end of next summer, in Moscow, she hopes to do even better.