The U.S. women have never placed higher than fourth in a World Cup, and they finished there again. East Germany won the women's competition with 120.5 points, followed by Europe (110), U.S.S.R. (98) and the U.S. (89)—so Ashford's 100 meters was less in support of a team effort than an end to an individual two-year-long road of injury, boycott, self-doubt and the patient, thoughtful overcoming of all that.
In a way, it was run for a team, but a small one, made up of her husband, Ray Washington, and her coach, Pat Connolly. Both—the calm, good-humored husband and the frenetic, opinionated coach—have been necessary to Ashford, appealing to the disparate elements of her character. As the sprinters stripped off their sweats, Washington watched bleary-eyed, because he had been waking constantly in the Roman nights to watch over his sleeping wife.
Ashford was in Lane 9, almost invisible as she stood behind the blocks, because the others were bouncing and shaking their legs and only she was still. "I didn't feel anything," she said.
Ashford got a good start. To her left, England's Kathy Smallwood started magnificently and, with world record holder (10.88) Marlies Göhr, led for 30 meters. But no one in the world has Ashford's pure speed, and she was almost a meter ahead at the finish in 11.02. The World Cup had its only double victor.
Later Ashford would anchor the U.S. women to second in the 4 X 100 relay—at 42.82, the only American record of the meet—and when that was over, despite all the medals, her reaction seemed a blend of relief and a still-simmering sense of quest. "This year I really wanted to run under the world record," Ashford had begun, when Connolly interrupted, "It's either been too hot, like in Sacramento, or there's no competition, or it rains, like in Berlin...."
"Or there's wind, or a bad start," continued Ashford. "I haven't had the perfect race yet. I'll keep running until I find it." Her tone made it sound less like a pledge than an acknowledgment of her own unquenched needs. And seemed to guarantee that two years from now, when there are real track and field world championships in Helsinki, Finland, we again will be lifted by this shy woman's speed and remote grace.