- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Albuquerque was also the meet at which Ashford introduced "the suit": three ounces of a body-hugging Lycra-polyurethane blend made by Descente, the Japanese company that makes racing suits for speed skaters, among them Eric Heiden. In fact it was while Evelyn and Pat Connolly were admiring Heiden in his sleek golden getup on television during the Lake Placid Olympics that the idea for the suit first occurred.
"Pat said. That suit looks like it's fast. I think you should try to get one,' " Evelyn recalls. "I said, 'Pat, I'll never wear that thing. There's no way in the world.' "
But fate intervened, and Ashford had second thoughts. In Japan in the spring of 1980 she met a Descente representative and wondered aloud whether the company might make a suit for running. The company did, two of them, one red and one black, both long-sleeved and long-legged. Though Evelyn Ashford may be shy, she isn't a prude and she is distinctly stylish. She likes to design and makes her own clothes when she has time. Evelyn tried out her new black suit at a party in Santa Monica in December. She added boots and gold chains and a belt ("You know, the disco look"), and when it proved a smashing success, she decided to wear it at an indoor meet. As she says, "The rest is history.
"It's not really tight, it's snug," she says. "It moves when I move. I can feel the wind go by when I run. It feels good. It feels fast."
Descente is delighted at the stir its design has caused but is undecided as yet just what to do about it. The company estimates that the suit would cost at least $300 in the U.S. In the meantime, however, Descente made sleeveless summer models for Evelyn in tan, blue, purple and rust.
Evelyn is the oldest of the five children of Vietta and Samuel Ashford, an Air Force senior master sergeant. She was born in Shreveport, La., one of her father's many posts; she claims never to have counted all the places she has lived. Okinawa and Morocco stand out in her memory, but the various Stateside bases tend to blur. It was while Samuel Ashford was in Vietnam that Evelyn, then 13 and living in Athens, Ala., did her first running. "I wasn't good at ball games, at throwing things," she says, "but I was pretty flexible and I could run. I could hit the ball to the pitcher and beat the ball to first base. I could always do that. My PE teacher noticed I could run, so she started a track team. She didn't know anything about coaching or training anybody, so we didn't train. We'd just go to the meet and run. When you're young you never get tired. It feels good all the time."
The following year, 1972, brought still another move, and Evelyn didn't run again until she was a senior at Roseville High near Sacramento in 1975. Again a PE teacher noticed her speed. This one directed her to the boys' track team, there being none for girls, and she became one of California's best high school sprinters. She ran the 100-yard dash in a handheld 10.3, and that was good enough to get her a scholarship to UCLA.
Ashford's freshman year on the West-wood campus was also Pat Connolly's first year as head coach of the women's varsity track team. Earlier, in 1972-73, as an unpaid volunteer with a budget of $300. she had put together a women's club team, but the next year she quit to get divorced and reorganize her life. Two years later Connolly was asked to return. By then she was remarried, to Harold Connolly, and had a son, Adam, who was five months old.
"I didn't know any of the girls, although I'd heard of a couple of them," says Connolly. "So I made everybody try out doing everything. I didn't even notice Evelyn. She was little [she is 5'5"] and shy, a freshman. I had them run 100 yards for time. I was standing on the grass over there and she started to run down the track in her flats. I looked at her and I thought, 'Oh boy, here's a runner.' Then I looked at my watch and I didn't believe the time [10.8]. I apologized. I said, 'I think I messed up your time. Would you mind running it once more for me?' and she did. And it was the same time. She was sensational, raw, all by herself, no formal coaching or anything."
Because Connolly, a strapping blue-eyed blonde of 38, had been to three Olympics herself, first as an 800-meter runner (Once, years later on an airplane, Connolly sat next to Gavriil Korobkov, the famous Soviet coach. He said to her, "You know we thought it was very funny the Americans should send a discus thrower to run the 800 meters") and later as a pentathlete, she was Olympics-oriented. And because 1976 was an Olympic year, she aimed her team in the direction of the Olympic Trials instead of the intercollegiate championships, to the consternation of some people in the UCLA athletic department. Six members of her team made it to the Trials and two—Ashford and Karin Smith, the javelin thrower—made the Olympic team. Ashford qualified third in the 100 behind Brenda Morehead and Cheeseborough, the two favorites from Tennessee State. In Montreal she gained the final of her event, in which she finished fifth.