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Putting It All On The Line
Kenny Moore
August 22, 1983
Mary Decker won two golds and Carl Lewis three in track and field's magnificent first World Championships ever
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August 22, 1983

Putting It All On The Line

Mary Decker won two golds and Carl Lewis three in track and field's magnificent first World Championships ever

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Decker hit the line with her arms up, engulfed in noise, for this crowd understood the delicate measuring of herself that had let her win from the front.

Her time was 8:34.62, her last 200 meters a 28.9. Not since Lasse Viren controlled a field of faster finishers in the 5,000 at the 1976 Montreal Olympics with these tactics had anyone succeeded with them in a major race.

Decker loped around an emotional victory lap, finally confirmed, after 14 years of struggling to reach her prodigious potential, as the best in the world Yet it takes very little time for the fullness of victories to fade for her. She lives to run, to race, not to have raced. Almost before she had recovered her breath she had gone from relishing this greatest of her races to anticipating what the Soviets would throw at her in the 1,500 on the meet's final day. It wasn't fresh tactics, just fresh troops. With 200 meters left in the 1,500, Decker had again led all the way, shadowed this time by Zamira Zaitseva, whose personal best was a second faster than Decker's (3:56.14 to 3:57.12). Zaitseva pounced earlier than Kazankina had. On the last turn she got about a hall step lead and cut sharply to the inside. "It was the kind of rough tactics you get in big races," said Decker. "That's one reason I'm here, to get used to dealing with things like that." She backed off to avoid tripping, then drove wide and set out in pursuit down the stretch. She gained, gradually at first, then faster as the Soviet began to tie up.

Decker came even with less than 10 yards to go. Zaitseva, desperate to preserve the win, dived at the line, but it was the wrong line, and as Decker strode past, Zaitseva went headlong to the track, scraping her face. "If the Soviets boycott the L.A. Olympics," said an observer, "you can blame Mary."

After her earlier win in the 3,000, Decker's celebratory lap had brought her near Lewis, but he had business to attend to. "When I saw Mary cross the line, it was a thrill. I wanted to put that emotion to good use." He returned to the runway, paused, then ran with power, settled low on his last two steps, hit the board and dropped into the pit at 28'¾" (8.55 meters), a mark none of his competition could hope to reach. He stood in the sand with his arms aloft as the applause for Decker became his own.

He took one more jump, reaching 27'7¼", and passed four other attempts in order to rest for the 4 X 100-meter relay. When not jumping himself, he coached Grimes and Mike Conley to jumps of 27'2½ and 26'7¾" to give the U.S. a sweep of the medals, the first in world-class competition in this event since the 1904 Olympics in St. Louis.

Lewis' concern was mainly for Conley, because the Arkansas junior had taken fourth in the triple jump, and was sore from the pounding necessary to survive two rounds of the triple and the qualifying of the long jump. "As I warmed up, it got better," Conley said. He won the bronze medal and later wore his GO HOGS cap on the victory stand while the national anthem was played.

"No, I didn't forget to take it off," he said firmly. "I'm a Razorback till the day I die."

Lewis has a remarkably salubrious effect on his teammates. In the 100-meter final he had led another U.S. sweep, as Calvin Smith and Emmit King followed him across the line ahead of the rest of the world.

Those three, plus Tennessee hurdler Willie Gault, made up the sprint relay team. They had run cautiously in the preliminaries, because King was bothered by a hamstring, because they hadn't trained together as a unit for more than a week and because they had seen catastrophe befall the American women's 4 X 100-meter relay team. The women's problems started when Evelyn Ashford pulled her right hamstring in the 100 final. With Ashford out, the U.S. women's relay team decided to keep the well-oiled order of the first three members, Alice Brown, Diane Williams and Chandra Cheeseborough, and simply drop in a new anchor, Randy Givens, the World University Games 200 champion.

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