Holli Hyche may run like the sprinter of the future, but she looks like a throwback to the late 1960s, when the sprints were dominated by men like Tommie Smith and John Carlos—very cool black men who ran in shades, as if to shield themselves from the spotlight that fell upon them. Hyche's reason for running in glasses is more pragmatic. "I don't like sticking myself in the eye with contacts," she says. "I'd rather just get up and put on my glasses. They wrap around my ears. They don't move while I run."
But the rest of her flies. Last weekend Hyche, a 22-year-old Indiana State senior, brought her remarkable collegiate career to an end at the NCAA track and held championships, in Boise, Idaho, and she bowed out in style. She won the 100 in 11.23, anchored the Sycamore women to a surprising third place in the 4 x 100 relay and finished second to Merlene Frazer of Texas in the 200. Though that loss ended Hyche's collegiate winning streak at 49 finals in various events, it came in her ninth race in four days, and she was philosophical about it. "You can only place first so long," she said. "I'm proud of what I've done." Indeed, in the past two years she has won seven NCAA sprint titles, and on Friday evening in the semis of the 100 she clocked 11.03, fastest in the world this year.
The crowd in Boise loved her, and no wonder: Hyche is a breathtakingly beautiful sprinter. At 5'5", 120 pounds, she is a sylph in a world of bulging muscle. "Holli's very small-boned," says Indiana State coach John McNichols. "More muscle mass would hinder her movement rather than enhance it. Whereas [1992 Olympic 100 champion] Gail Devers is a power runner, Holli is like a bird flying across the track. She is so quick off the ground, her stride so fluid, so relaxed, it's like watching a prima ballerina."
As a teenager in Indianapolis, Hyche's first loves were softball and bowling, in which she carried a league average of 187 and a high game of 297. Even though Hyche routinely heal the boys in races down the neighborhood streets, track did not appeal to her. She was going to try out for the high school softball team until a friend persuaded her to try track. "I've been running ever since," says Hyche.
June 12, 1994
She was a success almost immediately, winning state titles in the 100 and 200 as a Perry Meridian High sophomore. Hyche did not run in glasses then and, because of her vision, often slowed down five meters short of the finish. "I had a big lead on everybody anyway, so it didn't matter," she says.
But academics were something else. No matter how hard she studied, Hyche did poorly on exams. Thus, though her track times made her a shoo-in for an athletic scholarship, Hyche was convinced she wouldn't go to college. "I thought I was dumb and college was for smart people," she says.
When it was discovered during her junior year that she was dyslexic, Hyche had mixed feelings. She was relieved that her problem had a name and presumably a solution, but she was even more certain that college wasn't for her. Grudgingly, at her parents' insistence, she visited Indiana State, and only then did she learn of the school's program for dyslexic students. A Prop 48 student her freshman year, Hyche still must take notes after every paragraph she reads, but she has a 2.5 GPA and expects to graduate next May.
This summer she will run on the European circuit for the first time. Hyche also hopes to continue work on a special project, her autobiography, writing in her neat longhand. I The book is for children with learning disabilities. "The theme is, with a learning disability, you can still achieve," she says. "I'm a good example of that."