Ashford had built a single-minded life. "Almost everything I'd done in the last few years had been for the goal of getting to the Olympics and winning some gold medals," she says. She had an outside chance at four, in the 100 and 200, and in the 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 relays. "That's why I dropped out of UCLA. That's why I didn't do interviews. I just wanted to concentrate on being the best in the world. So when I found I couldn't go, I just gave up."
As Ashford warmed up for the women's 60-yard dash in which she would face the 1980 Olympic 100-meter champion, Lyudmila Kondratyeva of the Soviet Union, Ashford's coach, Pat Connolly, continued the tale. "Evelyn actually got back into training last June," she said, "but she had no motivation, no heart. She had to get away from it."
Ashford and her husband, Ray Washington, a teacher at a school for juvenile delinquents, drove across the country to visit relatives and ponder her future. "I was done, seriously," she had said. "I didn't want to face being that hurt ever again. But in the end my body itself brought me back. I just couldn't stand not doing anything."
In the fall she began anew with Connolly, working with a close-fitting weight vest and taking advantage of the dry Santa Ana winds that in November and December blew fires through Los Angeles suburbs. "She sprints with the wind at her back," said Connolly, "which helps to overcome any fear of falling forward at real speed and to keep that natural forward lean of hers, which increases the speed of her leg turnover."
A stunning technological advance that stopped some hearts at the Sunkist meet, as it had a week earlier in Albuquerque, where Ashford set an American indoor record of 6.65 in the 60, was her custom-tailored three ounces of black, filmy stretch fabric that she has substituted for the usual racing uniform of shorts and shirt and underwear. Made by Descente of Japan, it's similar—right down to its long legs—to the racing wear of speed skaters and downhill ski racers, though lighter, and its main purpose is to keep the sprinter warm, though there may be a tiny decrease in wind resistance as well. "And it's totally free," said Connolly. "No shorts riding up, nothing to tug into place, nothing blousing out in the wind."
As Ashford stood before her blocks, the garment, from a distance, gave her the appearance of a wet-suited skin diver. Kondratyeva was to her left, a gold tooth catching the light, her face more cherubic than when she won in Moscow, probably because she's put on at least 10 celebratory pounds since then. Alice Brown of the Shaklee Track Club of L.A. was next to Ashford on the right. A splendid starter, she'd won everything in sight last year after Ashford's injury.
Ashford had warmed up a lot. "She's nervous," said Connolly. "In some ways there's more pressure on her now than in the 1979 races against the East Germans. Then it was people's hopes she carried. Now it's more like people's expectations."
Brown was off well. Ashford, jittery, started terribly. But after 15 yards Ashford began to gain, reaching a speed no one else could match. Even before she caught and passed Brown, there was no question of the outcome. In flight, the suit made Ashford seem a darting silhouette. It emphasized the shape and heft of the prime sprinter's muscles in her hips and thighs and, more memorably, the lean delicacy of her calves and arms, giving a visual impression of the size of her engine and the relatively light body it propelled.
She won in 6.66, the fourth-fastest 60 ever run. Brown ran 6.77—the next night in Dallas she would do 6.62 and break Lyudmila Storozhkova's world record of 6.63—and Kondratyeva was fifth in seven seconds flat. Ashford quickly changed out of her suit, saying, "Nobody's said anything funny about it yet," and took it and her spikes to Connolly in the stands before going to face the press.
A very suspicious-looking little bottle of white powder fell out of Ashford's shoes into Connolly's palm. "Ah, Evelyn's secret," she said.