Mary Slaney first ran in New York City's Millrose Games in 1974,
when she was "little Mary" Decker, a pigtailed 15-year-old so
absurdly talented that she was already the best female
half-miler in the country. Though her grandfather escorted her
to the premeet banquet that year, Slaney showed no respect for
her elders on the track, winning the 1,000-yard run in 2:27.4.
By the early '80s she had become the best female runner in the
world, setting world outdoor records in the mile, the 5,000
meters and the 10,000 meters, plus 16 world indoor bests.
Several of her greatest performances came at the Millrose Games,
including a stunning world 1,500-meter record of 4:00.8 in '80.
That clocking earned her the first of four appearances on a
SPORTS ILLUSTRATED cover (above), the third of which celebrated
her selection as our '83 Sportswoman of the Year.
This is an article from the Feb. 17, 1997 issue
Throughout her career Slaney has been forced to accept that her
fiercest opponent is often her own ambition. Under its merciless
lash her body has frequently broken down. She has undergone 19
operations, most recently in '94 to remove 25% of her left
Last summer Slaney made her fourth U.S. Olympic team, in the
5,000. Even before she failed to reach the final in Atlanta, she
knew something was drastically wrong with her. She was getting
dizzy and winded just walking up stairs and had pains in her
chest. "The first thing I thought of was my heart," she says.
"My family has had a history of heart problems." Tests following
the Olympics revealed she had exercise-induced asthma. Three
medications were prescribed, and she began feeling like the
Slaney of old--or, rather, of young.
Even though she had not stepped on an indoor track in eight
years, Slaney called Millrose meet director Howard Schmertz in
December and asked to enter the mile. "I want to win and run
fast, between 4:20 and 4:25," she said before the meet. "I
suppose I'm being a bit greedy, but it's Millrose." Knowing her
history, one feared for Slaney, but last Friday night she ran a
controlled race, pulling away over the final 440 to win in
4:26.67. It was the best indoor mile by a woman in two years.
Slaney was thrilled by her performance and even spoke of
competing in the Sydney Olympics, when she will be 42. "People I
run against no longer tell me they had my poster on their wall,"
she said. "Now they thank me for showing they have 10 more years