SI Vault
Demmie Stathoplos
April 16, 1990
The money is lying there, just a few feet away from the blonde with the gun in her hand. Her dark blue eyes take on a steely glint as she zeros in on the mark. If she can pull this off, the money will be hers. But she doesn't look at it. She isn't in this for the money. Lori Norwood, of San Antonio, the women's world pentathlon champion, sights down the barrel of the Walther OSP and squeezes off five rounds—blam, blam, blam, blam, blam! The mark never stood a chance. She lowers her arm and lets out a soft sigh.
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April 16, 1990

Lori Norwood, Pentathlete And Renaissance Woman

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She drives her navy blue Isuzu pickup to the athletes' house adjacent to Fort Sam Houston, where she drops off her dog, Sadie, an Australian shepherd, before heading for the nearby fencing salle. Fort Sam Houston has been the home of the U.S. modern pentathlon team since 1955.

Peciak yells, "En garde!" and the sound of clashing steel fills the air as the team advances, parries, retreats and lunges, over and over again. "It took me a long time to figure fencing out," Norwood says. "Not the quickness or aggressiveness. Not the thrusts and parries, but the sneakiness of it. The little deceptive moves." Now that she's a world champion, her teammates fence her twice as hard as they once did. "They think, Here's the world champion, and I'm going to try and beat her," she says.

At 10:15 a.m., Norwood hops back into her pickup and drives to the Pershing Pistol Range, three miles away. Shooting practice is not all shooting, however. "Everybody take your positions," Peciak says. "Up." A dozen arms lift and extend, pointing pistols down-range at the targets. Time passes. A lot of time passes. Arms begin to quiver. "Very good," says Peciak. "Your arm is like cement. Don't look at me, look ahead. O.K., down. Now take the gun in your opposite hand. Up." More time passes. "O.K., two minutes rest."

The team practices until 11:45 a.m, then strips down to shirts and shorts for the training run. Peciak yells, "O.K., the women do a 50-minute workout and the men 60 minutes, except for Lori. She runs 60 minutes." An hour later, when the team members return, Norwood isn't even breathing hard. "God, I love to run," she says.

At 1:30 p.m., Norwood stops to pick up Sadie before driving home to shower and eat lunch. Her one-bedroom apartment, on a quiet San Antonio street, is small but tidy. Bronze and clay figures are arrayed on the floor and on a coffee table. Norwood is not only a superb athlete, she's also a talented artist. The first thing she can remember holding in her hand was not a gun or a horse's reins, but a chunk of modeling clay. "I love the feel of clay," she says. "I always had a three-dimensional sense as a kid. I was always making dogs and other animal figures, or building sand castles out of mud—always creating."

Her art sustained her when she was barred from competition for two years after testing positive for a banned substance. At the 1986 world championships in Montecatini Terme, Italy, Norwood and 11 other pentathletes from four countries tested positive for gamma-butyrolactone, a chemical that acts as a sedative. To this day Norwood vehemently denies ever having taken any banned drug. She becomes angry and upset just talking about that period in her life. "We'd never heard of this drug," she says. "And it took a year to get the test results [from the sport's governing body]. Meanwhile. I'm kicked out of the sport. I've absolutely no recourse.

"It follows me. It's always with me. I felt like such an outlaw," she says. "So many people heaped shame on me; they were so quick to condemn me. But I know what I did or did not do, and I'm perfectly able to go on with my life with that knowledge. I know there's life after pentathlon."

When the suspension was handed down, Norwood sold all her equipment except her riding boots. "I'm an artist," she says. "At least I had that other passion." Norwood spent those two years getting her B.A. in fine arts at the University of Texas, paying her way through her final year by selling commissioned artwork.

Her studio is near the old stables at Fort Sam Houston. "There are a lot of parallels between art and sport," she says. "In the studio, I'm just as active. I'm on my feet all day—it's very physical work. It's like taking a long run; it requires that focus. I'm not an amazingly talented or gifted athlete. I'm just more able to stay concentrated on something for a long time and be consistent. I can't just sculpt for an hour or two. Once I get in the studio, I live there."

Right now, of course, she lives for the pentathlon. For the 4:15 p.m. team swimming practice, she arrives early at the Blossom Athletic Center pool, suits up and starts doing laps. Swimming is the weak link in Norwood's performance, although Peciak believes she can do the women's 200-meter pentathlon distance in under 2:24. (She swam the best time in San Antonio, 2:30.5.) At 5:45 p.m., after an hour and a half of swimming laps, Norwood's training day is done.

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