Senior writer Tim Layden reports on the comeback of 37-year-old
Mary Slaney, who ran in the 3,000 meters at Sunday's Prefontaine
Classic in Eugene, Ore.
The race was less than a lap old when Slaney rushed to the
outside hip of Ireland's Sonia O'Sullivan and joined in her
swift cadence. "Easy, Mary, it's fast, really fast," barked
Alberto Salazar, one of Slaney's coaches. O'Sullivan, 26, is the
world's most versatile and formidable female middle-distance
runner, a threat to win Olympic gold medals at 1,500 and 5,000
meters this summer in Atlanta. She is also too much at this
point for Slaney, who is injury free for the first time since
1992, but who came to the Pre meet still building strength and
recovering from a kidney infection that kept her bedridden for
three days in mid-May. "But that's Mary, and she wants to be up
there in a race," said Salazar.
It has been 23 years since Slaney first appeared on the world
stage, as Mary Decker, a 14-year-old pigtailed prodigy from
Southern California. She won two world championships in 1983 and
still holds five U.S. records at distances from 800 to 3,000
meters, set from '83 to '85, a period when she was nearly
unbeatable. But she has never won an Olympic medal and,
unjustly, is remembered more for her entanglement with Zola Budd
in the '84 Games than for any of her successes.
She talks now of a fresh philosophy. "I just want to be healthy
and run," Slaney said before Sunday's meet. But she has never
been satisfied with such modest goals. "It's true, once I get
healthy, I start thinking about other stuff," she said. For now
that stuff includes the U.S. Olympic trials, on June 14-23 in
Atlanta, at which Slaney will compete in both the 1,500 and the
5,000. Never mind that she is old enough that many of her
competitors remember her from their childhoods--"I had a poster
of her on my wall in high school," says 27-year-old Suzy
Hamilton--Slaney is fit enough to evoke her past. Though she
faded to fifth on Sunday, behind O'Sullivan and three U.S.
runners, her time of 8:51.14 was her best since 1991. She will
not be a favorite at the trials, but she will be a threat. And
that is what she wants. "I've done a lot over the years," said
Slaney, "but there's so much more I haven't done."