No matter how fast Gwen Torrence's legs move, the fastest thing about her may be her mouth, which on occasion has run too fast for her own good. "Gwen's a very honest person," says Brad Hunt, her agent. "It's unfortunate that her comments sometimes draw more attention than her athletic ability."
Indeed, though Torrence may be the most versatile sprinter in the world—world class at every distance from 60 to 400 meters—she has never attracted as much attention as she did when, after finishing fourth in the 100 at the 1992 Olympics, she insinuated that three others in the race had been using performance-enhancing drugs. Naming no names and offering no proof, Torrence found herself in a maelstrom of controversy with her best event, the 200, still to come. "She'd say it over again, but at a different time," says Hunt. "It was a tribute to her focus that with reporters from all over the world besieging her, she won the 200 in her best time." Although Torrence came across in Barcelona as the classic sore loser, it helps to remember the context of her post-100 remarks. At the 1991 world championships she finished second in both the 100 and the 200 to Katrin Krabbe of Germany, who later tested positive for the performance-enhancing drug clenbuterol.
Last weekend in Atlanta, at the USA/Mobil Indoor Track and Field Championships, Torrence again found herself at the center of a small tempest. On the track she was sensational, winning both the 60 and 200, twice breaking her own American record in the latter. On Saturday afternoon she blew away the field to win the 60 in 7.10 seconds. An hour later she shaved .10 off her day-old record in the 200, running 22.74.
Torrence was named female Athlete of the Meet, which delighted the Georgia Dome crowd of 19,080. After each win she jogged around the track, resplendent in the pink bodysuit that has earned her the nickname Pink Panther, tossed her victor's bouquet into the crowd and distributed autographed photos of herself to a gantlet of shrieking children. It was a scene that almost didn't take place. Although she lives with her husband, Manley Waller, and four-year-old son in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur, where she grew up, and although much of her family had not seen her run since high school, Torrence had decided to compete only three days earlier. "So many people told me they had bought tickets to watch me run, it changed my mind," she says. Her reluctance to enter the meet was attributable in part to a chronically sore right hamstring, which she aggravated at the Millrose Games in early February. But Hunt says Torrence was also miffed because USA Track & Field didn't enlist her help in promoting the meet. Ollan Cassell, the organization's executive director, says it would have been unfair to promote the meet with an athlete who might not compete in it, but Hunt insists that Cassell's people knew of her interest long before the Millrose Games.
March 14, 1994
Torrence is only 28, so she figures to contend for an Olympic medal in 1996, when the Games will be held in her hometown. This summer she plans to explore the 400, in which she has been clocked at 49.83, third fastest in the world last year. "I'm just testing the waters to see what I might run in '96," she says. Her rivals stand warned. Those waters could get mighty hot.