The long-awaited rematch of Mary Decker Slaney and Zola Budd was all over after five laps at London's Crystal Palace last Saturday night. That was when Slaney, sticking to the plan she'd meant to try in the last kilometer of last summer's Olympic 3,000 meters, finally ran away. Budd, who had spent much of the first 2,000 in the perfect bothering position, memorably close to Slaney's shoulder and, worse, her heels, seemed to deflate and soon dropped to fourth. The word had been she couldn't kick. But now she couldn't even keep up.
Sensible handicappers knew that this would happen. Even Budd knew that this would happen. Slaney's best 3,000 was eight seconds faster than Budd's, and Slaney was in the shape of her life. So as her lead over the nearest pursuer, Switzerland's Cornelia Burki, stretched to 30 meters, the centerpiece of the Peugeot-Talbot Games became theater. It was an exhibition of Slaney's splendor out front. It was a nice payday. It was revenge. Above all, it was relief. But it was no longer a close race.
After The Fall, it took nearly a year for Slaney and Budd to return to a state of grace, meaning one where they could just go out on a track and get this thing behind them. Slaney, her hip socket injured from the shock of her plunge to the Los Angeles infield, couldn't race until winter. She married Richard Slaney twice, once in Eugene, Ore., once more in England for his family. She changed coaches, from Dick Brown to Luiz de Oliveira, and began a rigorous exercise regimen.
Although Budd convincingly won the world cross-country championship in March, her track development seemed to stall. In order to win, she must run away early, she must destroy the competition's kick, or she will be beaten late. This summer she has been beaten a lot, winning only one of four races.
Budd still must endure continuing harassment from antiapartheid protesters who fasten on her South African origins and look upon her British citizenship as a flag of convenience. Indeed, a protestor leaped to the track with an armload of leaflets about 100 meters from the start of the London 3,000. He was unceremoniously dragged off.
Slaney and Budd had buried the hatchet in the spring. Slaney had written to Budd that she regretted hurting Budd's feelings with the sharpness of her accusations at the Olympics. As they went to the start, Slaney wished Budd luck. Budd said thanks. "I don't want her to be afraid of me," said Slaney later. "Not as a person. As an athlete, sure."
Slaney, who never looked more athletic, ran her first lap in 66.5 and led by four meters. Budd came to her shoulder at 800, and the crowd shrieked because of the closeness of them. At 1,200 Budd may have led for a step or two. "But again," said Slaney, "she didn't accelerate enough to go by." Slaney was excited at how aggressive Budd was. "I was happy with her being right there, challenging, because it made me run faster."
At 1,700 they passed the point of the Olympic fall. Budd recently spoke of her reactions after Slaney went down in L.A. "I just felt I didn't want to stand on the winner's rostrum.... I think the people would have booed again. I didn't want any of that, so I ran slower, not to get a medal," she said. Surprisingly, she acknowledged Slaney's major claim, that Budd had cut in on her. "Wendy Sly tried to pass, and as she did, she made me go closer to Mary. I think that's why I had to cut in." That is not fully supported by the tapes. But then her track performances this season don't support the contention that she could have done much better than seventh in L.A., either.
Over the last 1,000 meters in London, Slaney loped away. She ran the final lap in 64.2, obviously with much in reserve, and won in 8:32.91, more than three seconds faster than Romania's Maricica Puic? did in winning the Olympic final. Burki held second in 8:38.71, and Budd was fourth in 8:45.43. "This doesn't prove anything," said Slaney. "Puic? is the Olympic champion, and nothing can change that."
It would have been gratifying to have Puic? in the London race, and she had been invited, but her Romanian Federation demanded a payment to match the $150,000 reportedly shared by Budd and Slaney. ABC TV, from which half of this largess flowed, said forget it. So Puic?, who had run an 8:40.16 3,000 the previous week in Romania, as if to say, "O.K., beat that," sat home.