A victory for domesticity

A new spouse, fiancé and mother set records at the Sunkist meet in L.A.
February 01, 1982

Stanley Floyd was only recently engaged (on Oct. 30 to middle distance star Delisa Walton). Mary Decker Tabb was only recently married (on Sept. 12 to world-class marathoner Ron Tabb). Debbie Brill only recently had a baby (Neil Bogart Ray on Aug. 18). And last Friday, awash in all this domesticity, together the three set two world indoor records and one American indoor mark at the Sunkist meet in Los Angeles. And, as Floyd rather archly pointed out, he'd broken a world record the previous week, with 12,110 in attendance, and no one noticed. That was in the 55-meter dash at the U.S. Olympic Invitational in East Rutherford, N.J., which he'd won in 6.14, .01 better than his own mark set last year in Cleveland. "But no one realized it," said Floyd.

"Don't look at us," said an official in the Los Angeles Sports Arena. "Do one here and we'll pay attention."

Well, divided attention. By far the loudest applause during the introductions for the 50-yard dash went to Georgia Tailback Herschel Walker, whose 220 pounds were 50 more than the compact Floyd's in the next lane. "Indoors, the start is all," said Floyd, and he caught a perfect one. "And for some reason 1 didn't ease up at all." He hit the line—later measured as 50 yards and three inches from the start—in 5.22, .03 faster than Houston McTear's four-year-old record of 5.25. Ron Brown of Arizona State, Walker and McTear were somehow judged to have finished behind Floyd in that order, although they shared the time of 5.29, the third fastest ever run in the event.

A few minutes later all but McTear, who was out with a cramp, duplicated their places at 60 yards, Floyd winning in 6.10. Brown was second in 6.13 and Walker third in 6.20.

Standing near the start was former football coach George Allen. He looked as if he wanted to pet Walker's oaken hamstrings. "Do you know him?" he asked 1968 Olympic decathlon champion Bill Toomey, pressing for an introduction. That provided, he told Walker, "I hope someday we play on the same team."

Floyd insisted the attention remain on the sport at hand. "Herschel found out track and football are two different worlds," he said. "I was in condition for a world record. Everything came together and I did it. Simple, natural, neat. And do I feel good?" His voice dropped to a vibrant baritone. "Oh yes."

Decker Tabb didn't look especially jubilant at the start of the women's mile. She was pale, and her hands were cold. But that was just the crowd and the occasion at work on her. She had in mind an even pace, something near 65 seconds per quarter, but that always seems too slow when an indoor crowd hushes at the start. And besides, because of injuries, it had been nearly two years since she had raced a mile. So she bolted off as of old, hitting the 440 in 62.7 with a 35-yard lead on a strong field. The half was 2:07.7, and she looked magnificent, her jaw loose, her arms carried without a trace of effort. "It looked easy then," she would say, "because I was slowing down." Ahead by half a lap, she had no immediate goad save the shrieking crowd, and ran splits of 68.1 and 68.8 to finish in 4:24.6, 3.9 faster than Francie Larrieu's women's world indoor record of 4:28.5 set in 1975. Yet Decker Tabb had run 4:17.6 in 1980 in Houston on a track too large to qualify for an indoor mark, so she didn't consider this a landmark effort. "I've had so few races that it's still hard to push myself in the middle," she said. Indeed, after the Sunkist mile she had trotted half a lap and given an embarrassed shrug. "When I go hard in a workout, my butt gets sore, I get tired. But now nothing hurts."

The reason for that is the stamina she has built over the fall and winter, running twice a day with Ron. Once over-distance runs were difficult for her. Her gift was speed. The endurance to sustain it had to be earned. "But now we do 10 miles in 56 minutes and it feels easy," said Decker Tabb. "I've done very little speed training." With more of that, her mile time will surely plummet to the vicinity she intends, say 4:10. "I'm honestly going to stay healthy," she said. "I am, because I'm going to be consistent. I'm going to listen to Ron and my coach, Dick Brown, when they say to rest. I am, because with Ron I'm feeling like a whole person instead of a hollow one."

That remark would win her the uplift award at any meet except this one. But the women's high jump was a poignant mixture of rugged competition and madonna poses. Present on the infield, and passed around among the jumpers, was baby Neil. "Oh, he really likes me," said Louise Ritter, whose leap of 6'4" was second to Neil's mother's, who cleared 6'5" and had three respectable misses at an indoor world record 6'6¼". But Brill, who has represented Canada in international competition for 13 years, turns out to have dual U.S.-Canadian citizenship because her mother is from El Segundo, Calif., so the 6'5" jump becomes the American indoor record, replacing Joni Huntley's 6'4¾". "Not bad," said Brill's roommate and training partner during this indoor season, javelin thrower Kate Schmidt, "for being anemic and trying to get back gradually."

But Brill, 28, felt she had never really been away. She said, "At the start of 1980 I said, 'I'll jump this year and then have a baby.' Greg [Ray, her longtime boyfriend] and I wanted children, and in that year there were good jumps and there were a lot of terrible jumps, and there was a part of me saying, 'There is more to life than this.' "

By last winter she was pregnant. "I trained very little," she said. "I was sick for the first four months and couldn't do anything." Instead, she took courses in epistemology, metaphysics and moral philosophy at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver. "I've always had to ask about things," she said with a trace of self-consciousness. "The why of things."

Not that she was confused about the rightness of her choice: "No, I watched meets then and I never wished I was doing anything different. Being pregnant was like being injured. I never felt like I quit. I was hungry to get back."

But first there was the small matter of parturition. Brill, the most natural of athletes, chose natural childbirth, and endured 14 hours of labor. "I've never had any endurance," she said. "It was the hardest thing I've ever done." On an I.V. at the end, to keep up her strength, she was delivered of six-pound, nine-ounce Neil Bogart Ray. Bogart?

"It was the house consensus," Brill said. She described the old farmhouse in Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver, in which she and Greg and Schmidt and Brill's sister, Connie, all live. "We knew his first name would be Neil, which is relatively plain and safe. So we thought for a middle name we'd give him something romantic. Bogart is there to be exotic if he wants it."

That done, Brill set about her return. "I hadn't gained much weight, only 19 pounds counting Neil's seven, and I lost it all within a month. I did light exercises for a couple of months and then started some weight training, some running, some infrequent jumping." There was a difference, a rising urgency. "I remember the first time I went to jump, about two and a half months after his birth, just over a low bar, and I got nervous."

In the 2½ months since then she had had only seven jumping workouts, and none had been for height. "I can't jump for height in our facility," she said. "The pit is so small it's like target practice to hit it at all."

Then there had been a siege of anemia. "Three weeks ago I could barely get out of bed," Brill said. "I couldn't get over the bar no matter how much I lowered it." She took iron. She stopped nursing Neil. Then, on Jan. 17, at a low-key meet in Seattle, she jumped 6'3". "It was the first time back; I was so nervous I went to the bathroom about 80 times."

In Los Angeles she began at 5'9" and cleared that and 5'11", 6'¾", 6'2¾", 6'4" and 6'5", all on her first attempts. "By then I was exhausted," she said. "I'm not used to sustaining my concentration for as long as I had to." But while she was working ever higher, Brill seemed to embody the fullest range of female athletic expression, from nuzzling her baby with the ineffably rapt expression of new mothers, to deliberating calmly on the runway, to running at the bar with lithe, muscular bounds and eyes so suddenly fierce as to be disturbing. And then, rolling out of the pit each time, her astonishment growing, she would go to the baby and coo that they could go home soon.

None of her attempts at the world record were heart-stopping. "I had to adjust my run to the awkward way they had the track set up, and I bruised my heel," she said, "but more important, in none of my jumps was I in a really proper position at takeoff. They were desperation jumps, just to get over the bar."

Later, after accepting a medal and $1,500 from the Jean Naté perfume company as part of its complicated—but sanctioned—system of giving prizes in selected events (Decker Tabb was also such a winner), Brill continued to affect delighted shock, saying, "I'm surprised at the ease of it. People have said there is precedent for a baby's making you stronger, but I couldn't imagine it happening so soon. I'm jumping high, but not well, not technically correct. I can jump a lot higher than I have." (Indeed, the very next night, in Edmonton, she jumped 6'6¼" to break by ¼" the indoor world record set by Andrea Matay of Hungary in 1979.)

Might she, like Decker Tabb, have a rough goal in mind? "Not a career schedule, no," she said. "It's a sense. Like tonight, I knew I'd gone as high as I can go with the scrappy technique. The same sense will tell me when there will be no more, ever." As she spoke she gazed at little Neil in his plastic carry-seat, watched over by Schmidt and Ritter. Despite the loud P.A. announcing and the report of the starter's pistol, he had quite firmly gone to sleep. "It's better now," Brill said. "Better than ever."

Across the way Floyd was watching. "Got engaged in October," he said. "Getting married in June. But no babies until after 1984, no sir."

TWO PHOTOSBrill, who set a world mark a day after failing in L.A., says that having Neil strengthened her.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)