It's a law of nature that U.S. runners drag home from the European wars each summer exhausted. "The first day back," Steve Scott has said, "my legs are always so weak I wonder whatever gave me the dumb idea I could run." Or they come back broken. In 1980 Mary Decker departed the Continent with a strained Achilles tendon that would eventually require surgery. She had run 2,000 meters of, as she put it, "just one last 3,000 before I go," when the tendon went.
Decker wasn't to recover for a year. In fact, when she married marathoner Ron Tabb last summer, a wedding guest was heard to whisper, "She goes lame so often now you can call her Pull-Tabb."
Tabb, a patient and selfless man, has been instrumental in gently guiding his sometimes overspirited wife through a gradual return to her extraordinary form. Both of them, in turn, have been overseen by Athletics West administrator Dick Brown, also a marvelously soothing soul and a highly trained physiologist, who stressed consistency and caution.
The result had been this year's spate of six world records, four of them indoors—the 3,000 (8:47.3) and three successive improvements in the mile, culminating in a 4:20.5 on Feb. 19 in San Diego—and two of them outdoors, a 15:08.26 in the 5,000 in Eugene on June 5 and a 4:18.08 mile on July 9 in Paris. Moreover, Decker Tabb set an American women's mark in the 3,000 (8:29.71) on July 7 in Oslo, narrowly missing the world record of 8:27.12 held by Lyudmila Bragina of the Soviet Union.
To forestall potential injury, the Tabbs flew home to Eugene, Ore. late last week for a three-week recharge before returning for late August races in Nice, Zurich, Brussels and Koblenz. They were 16 hours in planes and concourses between Geneva and Eugene last Thursday. "Alberto and Molly Salazar were on the same planes," says Decker Tabb. "And Alberto said that despite setting American records in the 5,000 and 10,000 [13:11.93 and 27:25.61], he felt he had a good 10,000 left in him." Salazar wondered aloud—and presciently, it turned out—whether it would count in the eyes of the International Amateur Athletic Federation, which approves track and field world records, if he set a mark in one of Eugene's all-comers meets.
"All-comers meets?" said Decker Tabb. "You'd want to run that hard in a little all-comers meet?"
The Tabbs finally made it to their chocolate-brown bungalow, and Mary collapsed into bed at 1 a.m. Friday. She slept until 11 and still couldn't get up the gumption for a morning jog. She weighed herself: 103 pounds, very light for her. At 4:30 that afternoon Ron was reading the paper. "Hey," he said. "They're having a women's 10,000 tonight."
"Where?" said Mary.
"Down at the track [the University of Oregon's Hayward Field]. At the all-comers meet."
"That rings a bell," thought Mary.