Fifth-placer Cornelia B�rki of Switzerland, who was also born in South Africa, said, "When you're behind, you're the one to have to watch out. It was Mary's fault."
This doesn't mean that a leader can swerve in with impunity, but that in the give and take of pack running, athletes learn to make allowances. "You're supposed to be one stride ahead before you can cut in," said Eamonn Coghlan of Ireland, the world indoor mile-record holder. "But this happens all the time. You have to protect yourself out there."
Neither Decker nor Budd has ever had much experience racing in the pack. Decker, though 26, can count on one hand the number of races in which she has had to maneuver in tight quarters. Her main concern with other runners on the track has been in lapping them. So she has never needed finely honed protective reflexes.
"Perhaps it was inexperience on Zola's part," said Coghlan. "Perhaps it was being too ladylike on Mary's part. You can't blame either one." The jury of appeals, after watching videotape from six angles, saw it that way, too. Budd was reinstated.
The last person Budd would ever want to hurt is Decker. The reverse may not be quite true, but the essential thing seemed not motive—"Mary doesn't feel that Zola did it intentionally," said Brown a day later—but the waste of all the preparation both had invested in this race.
At another level, both seemed to be getting punished for elements deep in their characters. Six years ago Decker said, "If it comes down to a choice between causing pain or taking it, I'll take it." That certainly seemed to be operating in the split second when she had to decide whether to push or fall.
And Budd, so shy, so much a symbol of the runner as one trying to flee, is now the one caught in yet another maelstrom.
But both picked themselves up. Rather than being dejected, Budd was said to be a little testy the next day. "She's not too happy with Mary's reaction," said British coach Frank Dick. "It wasn't her fault. She knows that."
Decker went back to her hotel after a tearful press conference and lifted a glass with some friends. "Here's to Zurich," she said, naming the locale where she plans to race next, on Aug. 22. "And here's to Cologne and Paris [Aug. 26 and Sept. 4]...and here's to Seoul in '88."
If Decker provided the most riveting image of Olympic disaster since Jim Ryun fell in a heat of the 1,500 meters in 1972, Carl Lewis forcibly—but gracefully—shifted the tone the other way. His four gold medals, duplicating the wins of Jesse Owens in 1936, were all pictures from an exhibition. Success never seemed so smooth.