Off and Running A Trio of Aces Three U.S. women try to hold off the Eastern European swarm

September 13, 1988

THE U.S. WOMEN'S TRACK AND field team storms Olympia with the
maxim ''You can never be too rich or too thin.''
Rich. Three sinfully delicious American originals threaten to
upend the Eastern European dominance. Fashionable Florence Griffith
Joyner's new 100- meter world record of 10.49 puts her three meters
clear of that field, and her best race may be the 200. Then she can
anchor the 4 X 100-meter relay.
Her sister-in-law, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, has a padlock on the
heptathlon and is ready to long-jump past 25 feet to regain the world
record, which she previously shared with East Germany's Heike
Drechsler, from Galina Chistyakova of the U.S.S.R., who recently
reached 24 ft. 8 1/4 in..
) Mary Slaney will run the 1,500 against Paula Ivan of Romania
and both the 1,500 and 3,000 against Tatyana Samolenko, a Soviet who
may not be quite as good as the Soviet women Slaney whipped in the
1983 World Championships.
Three women. A potential seven gold medals. That's as many as the
U.S. women won in L.A. when the Soviets and East Germans stayed home.
Seven golds would seem to announce a revolution in women's track,
except that the U.S. Olympic team is so . . .
Thin. No other American women, save sprinters Evelyn Ashford, Gwen
Torrence and Pam Marshall, high jumper Louise Ritter and marathoner
Margaret Groos, figure to medal at all. The gold medals for a few
events are assigned already. Stefka Kostadinova of Bulgaria will win
the high jump. Her countrywoman Ginka Zagorcheva owns the 100-meter
hurdles. And no one will catch Rosa Mota of Portugal in the marathon.

As ever, East Germany will send a swarm of contenders, led by
Drechsler, who will hover above the battlefields like a Valkyrie,
sprinting against Griffith Joyner and jumping against Joyner-Kersee,
and Silke Moller, who at the 1987 World Championships in Rome beat
Drechsler in the 100 and Griffith in the 200. The G.D.R. could win
the 400 with Petra Muller, the 800 with either Christine Wachtel or
Sigrun Wodars, the 400 hurdles with Sabine Busch, the discus with
Gabriele Reinsch (the new world-record holder at 252 ft.), the
javelin with Petra Felke, and the 4 X 400 relay. That would be six
Which would leave the U.S.S.R. humbled, with possibly only Natalya
Lisovskaya winning the shot put. If the Soviets want more -- do the
Soviets want more? -- they'll have to beat proud Mary.
Slaney will be taking on Samolenko, a 27-year-old fan of Chekhov,
O. Henry and soccer. With Slaney sidelined because of injury, the
Soviet woman won both the 1,500 and 3,000 in Rome, matching Slaney's
double of 1983.
Slaney needs to lead. Samolenko follows, waiting until everyone
else has made a move, and then chops them down in the last 50 meters.
But Slaney will have saved a little something for the stretch
herself. That will make this a match to relish.

Track teams are built around sprinters and quarter-milers who can
double and run relays or hurdle and jump. That helps explain how U.S.
men have won 225 Olympic gold medals in track and field since 1896,
and that's how they will win six or seven more in Seoul.
Remarkably, no man has ever successfully defended an Olympic 100,
200 or long jump title (unless you count the intercalated 1906
Olympics, when Archie Hahn and Meyer Prinstein, both of the U.S.,
repeated in the 100 and long jump, respectively). Carl Lewis has a
chance at all three, but the athletes opposing him are somewhat less
than awestruck. Ben Johnson of Canada clubbed the American with a
9.83 world-record 100 on Aug. 30, 1987; Lewis struck back this
summer, beating Johnson with the fastest time of the year, 9.93.
Their Seoul rematch cannot be anything but captivating, especially if
they draw adjacent lanes. In the 200, Lewis placed second at the U.S.
trials behind Joe DeLoach. And in the long jump he needs a surpassing
effort because Larry Myricks, who missed beating him by 3/4 in. at
the U.S. trials, refuses to go on missing forever.
In the 400, Butch Reynolds, fresh from shattering Lee Evans's 1968
world record of 43.86 with a stunning 43.29 in Zurich, may lead Danny
Everett and Steve Lewis to a U.S. sweep. Nor is the 4 X 400-meter
relay record, also from 1968, safe against this generation.
The U.S. is almost as strong in the 400-meter hurdles. Edwin Moses
has had his ''best training year of the '80s.'' Andre Phillips and
Kevin Young will give such chase that the U.S. could sweep that
event, too.
No U.S. male runner has a chance at a distance over 800 meters. On
the field, shot-putter Randy Barnes has reached 73 ft. 6 3/4 in., but
that's still well shy of the new world record of 75 ft. 8 in. set by
Ulf Timmermann of East Germany. Willie Banks triple-jumped
magnificently with the Indiana wind in the trials, but Seoul's
stadium is enclosed, so he'll have a struggle-to-the-last- jump with
Khristo Markov of Bulgaria and Oleg Protsenko of the U.S.S.R.
The magnetic race is the 1,500. It drew Said Aouita of Morocco out
of the 5,000, which he won in the '84 Games and in Rome last year.
Look for him to bare his teeth and seize it by the neck with 300
meters to run. Then a resurgent Steve Cram of Britain will charge
with 200 to go. In the stretch, Abdi Bile of Somalia will come on.
By then you had better have thrown aside this catalog of guesses,
or you'll miss the race of their -- and perhaps our -- lives.