Thursday, July 27, 2017

V 7 N. 50 Margaret 'Gretel' Bergmann Lambert R.I.P.

Gretel Bergmann
Gretel Bergmann, the Jewish girl who was European High Jump Champion, but excluded from competing in the 1936 Olympics because of her heritage, passed away this week. She was 103 years old. She outlived all the Nazis who refused to allow her to represent her country.  She was able to emigrate to the US after the Olympics and was twice US high jump champion prior to WWII.

Ira Bekow tells her story in a recent New York Times article.

Gretel Bergmann  Clik here for NYT story

Although this post is to note the passing of Gretel Bergmann it is difficult to separate her story from that of Dora Ratjen  aka Heinrich Ratjen who competed for Germany in those 1936 Games.

A few years ago a German company produced the film  "Berlin 36"  fictionalizing some of Bergmann's story.  Of controversy was the role played by an other German high jumper Dora Ratjen  who passed as a female and was the fourth place winner in the 1936 Olympic Games.    The German press in this 2009 article in Der Spiegel by Stefan Berg September 15, 2009,   takes the filmmakers to task over the facts about Ratjen.  Both these stories are long reads but well worth the effort.  Note that that Ratjen story is two pages on its site, and you have to go to the bottom to clik onto the second page.

Dora Ratjen's Story

Dora Ratjen

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

V 7 N. 48 Jon Hendershott's Favorite Women's Middle Distance Races


Part VIII—Women’s Middle-Distances.

by Jon Hendershott


It still is the fifth-fastest women’s two-lapper in history. And the 1:54.68 race was made most memorable for me by the time schedule that Jarmila Kratochvílová of Czechoslovakia had to overcome at the inaugural World Championships in Helsinki ’83.
Jarmila Kratochvilova
On the day of the 800 final, August 9, the then-32-year-old runner first had to run a semi-final of the 400. That she did, winning comfortably in 51.08. She then received a massage and a bit more than 30 minutes later— precisely 33:27.5, according to the IAAF’s history of the Worlds—Kratochvílová crouched at the starting line in Helsinki’s storied Olympic Stadium for the 800 final.

She had made her reputation in previous seasons more in the 400, claiming the 1980 Olympic silver in Moscow as well as three consecutive European Indoor golds (’81-82-83). But late in the ’82 season—probably with an eye toward trying the demanding 400-800 pair at the kick-off World Champs—she clocked a two-lap best of 1:56.59. That time pretty much made up her mind about doubling in Finland.

In just her third race of the ’83 campaign, following 400 PRs of 48.82 and 48.45, Kratchovílová had rolled to a stunning 800 World Record in Munich on July 26: 1:53.28, which has remained the global best for these 34 years.

So she went into Helsinki as the favorite in both the 400 and 800, the time schedule notwithstanding. Then 33 minutes after that eased-up 400 semi-final win, Kratochvílová tucked into 3rd as the USSR pair of Lyudmila Gurina and Yekaterina Podkopayeva led through a 57.59 first lap.

Women's 800 Helsinki 1983 clik to see the race

The Czech bided her time until about 200 to go before taking command for good and cruising to the win from Gurina (1:56.11) and Podkopayeva (1:57.58). Her final 200 timed 27.3—according to the IAAF, faster than three of the finalists in the men’s two-lap final.

And what about the championship 400 the next day? Kratochvílová won that, too—in a World Record 47.99, to become the first woman to circle the track once under 48-flat.

Women's 400 Helsinki 1983 clik to see the race

1500 METERS:

I have a hard time picking just one favorite at the “metric mile.” Both starred U.S. distance icon Mary (Decker) Slaney, one race being a huge plus for Mary and the other the career highlight for her 1980’s rival Ruth Wysocki.

In the first, the ’83 Worlds final in Helsinki, Slaney had to face the feared Soviets, especially Zamira Zaytseva and Yekaterina Podkopayeva. Just four days earlier, Mary had claimed a 3000 triumph by outrunning West Germany’s Brigitte Kraus plus the illustrious figure of two-time Olympic 1500 champ Tatyana Kazankina of the USSR.

Podkopayeva had herself won the 800 bronze medal five days earlier, while Zaytseva was running only the 1500. Neither could be underestimated. But as she did in the 3K, Slaney forced the pace. The breezy conditions held her to a 64.04/2:10.92 tempo as the Soviets, especially Zaytseva, parked on Mary’s shoulder.
  Yekaterina Podkopayeva and Mary Slaney still duelling
fourteen years later in Paris 1997.

Heading into the final turn, Zaytseva forged in front and then cut in front of the American. Yet Slaney played it cool, waiting until the head of the homestretch to lengthen out her strides again. She caught Zaytseva perhaps 10-meters from the finish and the Soviet strained to respond.

But Zaytseva, overstriding and off balance, tumbled to the track with some five meters to go, still rolling across the line to salvage 2nd. Slaney timed 4:00.90, a Championships record that lasted a decade, ahead of the 4:01.19 by Zaytseva with Podkopayeva (4:02.25) again 3rd.

Women's 3000 and 1500 Helsinki 1983 clik to see the races

Slaney’s gritty, never-say-die determination was rewarded not only with two Worlds gold medals but later with several year-end Athlete of the Year awards, including Sports Illustrated’s Sportswoman of the Year honor. And T&F News? Kratochvílová outpolled Slaney for the AOY honor, the Czech earning 99.4% of the 1st-place votes in T&FN’s poll.

But her Helsinki double—and especially that ultra-competitive last stretch of the 1500—insured Slaney’s high place among America’s all-time great women runners.

A year later, though, Slaney showed she was human, after all. In the ’84 Olympic Trials 1500 final, run on the later-to-be-Olympic oval in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, Slaney was run down in the final stretch by southern California native Ruth Wysocki in a finish that harkened back to Helsinki the year before.

Just the day before the June 24 1500 final, Slaney had taken the 3000 win by 6-plus seconds in 8:34.91. Five days earlier, Wysocki had placed 2nd in the 800 to earn her first USA team spot.

By the time of the 1500, Wysocki had run three 800 rounds in four days plus two 1500 prelims in the previous three days. Slaney had run three 3K races in five days plus the 1500 Q-rounds, including the 1500 heats in the morning of June 21, followed by the 3K semis at 7:20 that night.
Ruth Wysocki

So both runners had been rigorously tested before the 1500 final. But as usual, Slaney took the lead, setting a pace of 65.2/66.3/64.7 for the first three laps. Yet the field stayed with her and perhaps 250-meters from home, Wysocki burst from 4th to 1st. Slaney glanced to her right in what might be called wide-eyed surprise.

But Mary held the inside position and regained the front in the last turn. Wysocki wasn’t finished, though, and the pair traded strides down the final straight until Ruth retook the lead some 50-meters out. Slaney gave in with a few strides left and Wysocki crossed the finish to win by 0.22 in a career-best 4:00.18, arms thrust aloft and a grin of wild exultation on her face. The moment of victory was immortalized on the cover of T&FN’s August ’84 edition covering the Trials.

Wysocki went on to finish 6th in the Olympic 800 and 8th at 1500. Slaney, of course, chose to concentrate on just the 3K in the Games—a decision that ultimately made her half of the famous collision with Britain’s Zola Budd that left Slaney injured on the infield, shrieking in pain and frustration. It was a terrible scene, especially after her glorious double the year before in Helsinki.


Full disclosure: I have seen so few women’s mile races that I honestly can’t even recall the details of any. So obviously, no such mile stands out for me as “most memorable.”

However, the fastest women’s mile I ever saw came at the 1983 Pepsi meet at UCLA—by the way, staged on May 15, not the May 5 I incorrectly listed in my men’s javelin memories. In that Pepsi race, Mary Slaney clocked 4:21.65, then the equal-No. 3 U.S. women’s time ever.

My problem was, I was consumed with chasing down Tom Petranoff after his monstrous 327’2” (99.72) spear effort to set a new World Record. So (blush) I have no memory of Slaney’s race. My apologies, Mary.

(Next: women’s distances & marathon)

Monday, July 24, 2017

V 7 N. 47 Ted Haydon's Alibi Check List

Two posts the same day?  Why not.  This came from Ned Price, former U. of Chicago Track Club Member with Coach Ted Haydon's list of excuses for not running well.  Here it is on the original mimeographed paper.  

Ned claims he got beat by a junior high school kid but the kid went on to be a state champ in Indiana.  So that's his excuse.

    I know this is a true storyline, but it’s a riot.   But Ted was a track guy and not a recreational runner.    Sometimes even runners world will put in a check list like this for the ave runner.  Are you kidding me.    for us it’s not that critical.  I think.   The running life is the good life.  but to a point.  Mike W.

That's a pretty good list. I think I've heard at least half of them from runners (many from Barry Brown).

this is a handy list.  where was it when i needed it??  Richard T.

Dear George:
Ted's list was invaluable.
You do know, I'm sure, that you are posting this material to the very few people in this world who know what a "jock strap" is.
Take care,

Dear George:
I saw Ned's comment and he probably was right.  Hal was/is adept at such things.
I remember seeing that list and thinking it was typical Haydon.  He may not have been the most technically competent coach but he had a way of dealing with his runners that kept them enthused, eager to keep at it and enjoying track and field.  As I recall, there weren't many "swelled heads" around Ted and his ability to prick any ego.
Keep up the good work.
Take care,

That item used to be almost universal in men's sport, and now they are only in museums.
Well, not museums, but somewhere.  You don't even see them in estate sales.  Ned mentioned in his 'comment' that Hal Higdon used the snowblindness excuse.  I think hockey still uses them.  George

BTW I believe it was Hal Higdon who used snow blindedness. There was a race where snow obscured the course markings and some people ran one 
part of the course clockwise and others counterclockwise and met each other going opposite directions.  Ned

V 7 N. 46 A Day at the Races (1979) in Nairobi

We're privileged to have made the acquaintance of Roy Gachuhi, a long time journalist in the nation of Kenya.  Roy recently wrote his reminiscence of an international meet in Nairobi in 1979.  This appeared in The Daily Nation  July 15, 2017 and we are reprinting it with Roy's permission.  I used to read The Daily Nation fifty years ago when serving in the Peace Corps in that country.  I remember one of the first international meets held there in 1966 when Juegen May came down to Kenya from East Germany and got smoked by Keino in the 5000 foot altitude.    In the article the term 'marram' refers to a dirt track as opposed to cinders.  Thanks too to Michael Solomon who made the connection between Roy Gachuhi and our blog.

Edwin Moses Edging Dan Kimaiyo in Nairobi in 49.6


      In terms of star appearance, the greatest athletics event to take place on Kenyan soil happened on June 20, 1979.
      It was a one-off, not as intended but as fate would have it. It paid homage to one of the planet’s great track nations, laid before our eyes a future pregnant with dreams but in the fullness of time only succeeded in leaving us with inerasable memories.
       This was the Jomo Kenyatta Memorial Athletics Meeting. It was held on the marram track of the Nairobi City Stadium.
       This name cropped up at the very last minute. Throughout the preparations, the Kenya Amateur Athletic Association, precursor to the present Athletics Kenya, talked only of a Special International Athletics Meeting. In fact, the meeting was also called the Jomo Kenyatta Memorial Games, never mind it was an athletics only event.
     Two world heavyweights topped the card. One was Edwin Moses of the United States, then the world 400m hurdles champion, who was in his second of a ten-year uninterrupted winning streak. By the time he lost to fellow American Danny Harris in 1987, he had run 122 races without defeat, to this day, history’s longest winning streak.
      The other was our own Henry Rono, who was the holder of four world records in the 3,000m, 3,000m steeplechase, 5,000m and 10,000m.

      Yet Moses and Rono were just but part of a star-studded cast. Steve Williams of the USA was at the height of his powers as the world’s fastest man. He had run the 100 metres in a hand-timed 9.9 seconds and the 200 metres in 19.8 seconds. He was a member of the American team that had set the world record in the 4x100 metres relay. He was, naturally, the big gun in the sprints.
       But the man with whom he had jointly set the world record in the 220 yards in 1975, Jamaica’s Don Quarrie, was also here. Both had done 19.9seconds. They would raise the murram dust of the City Stadium in the 200m. Other sprinters on the cards were Ghana’s Ernest Obeng, the reigning African champion and Jerome Deal and Leon Coleman both of the United States.
      The sprints card could not get heavier than that anywhere in the world. It is like having Usain Bolt and the best the world could throw at him and Jamaica in this age. And it was all happening inside the grey walls of the Nairobi City Stadium behind which the old Mombasa train was blowing its whistle and people were eating nyama choma and drinking Tusker Export beer at Kanyim’s Bar in Kaloleni.
      The middle and long distances were just as strong. The leading distance runners at that time were Alberto Salazar, today Nike Oregon Project coach and Rudi Chapa, both of the United States. I found Salazar one of the most pleasant people to interview – but more about that later. Both Salazar and Chapa were here and we smelt a world record, what with Henry Rono properly invincible but the best of the rest wanting to end that enviable period of his career with immediate effect.
      Mike Boit, one of Kenya’s most beloved athletes, was expected to spearhead the middle distance challenge in his specialty, the 800m. But in both that and the 1,500m, the United States had brought in heavy artillery. Evans White, Gerry Jones and Craig Masback were all in the top tier bracket in the world at that time. Their presence was sure to electrify the proceedings.
       Any competition of this magnitude was always destined to give a cub reporter like me a blood rush. At that time, I was working for a Sunday broadsheet called The Nairobi Times published alongside the famed Weekly Review and the children’s magazine, Rainbow by the Nation Group’s first African Editor, Hilary Ng’weno then operating his own outfit, the Stellascope Group.
      I will be truthful with you. The man I was obsessed with – over and above everybody else – was Edwin Moses. I stalked him and finally tracked him down at his residence, the Pan Africa Hotel along Valley Road barely two hours before he was to go to the City Stadium. I must here tell you that getting to the City Stadium from the Pan Afric Hotel on an early Wednesday afternoon in 1979 was a breeze. Don’t imagine traffic jams, much less boda boda.
       I found him in the garden restaurant. He was drinking…(ahem!) – a Pilsner beer! I was shocked. Just about the first question I asked him after introductions was, “how can this be?” By my watch, competition time is…goodness me? An hour away? He looked amused. And he did not directly address my concerns; he gently steered me into asking him “good questions like – his life, America, Kenya, the Jomo Kenyatta Meeting…”
      He was such a good guy, so approachable, so polite, so respectful and so knowledgeable that you just had to love him as you would a dear family member.
      This was the world champion, not so far from his race, apologizing if he had inconvenienced me in my search for him and expressing his privilege at my interviewing him.
      Even at that age, I could read body language dispassionately. Moses came away to me to me as an honest man. The interview was short but he promised he would be available for me after his race. And he kept his promise – giving me so much time, that I actually ran out of questions. But there is more before we get to that. He was pitted against our own Dan Kimaiyo. Apparently, Moses hadn’t researched our man.
     At the same time, Kimaiyo must have been eating, drinking, breathing, coughing and sleeping nothing else but Edwin Moses. The race was horribly close. The 15,000 people inside our World War II era playground screamed wildly as the greatest athlete in the world over the one-lap obstacle distance almost lost to our unheralded village-mate. It was desperately close.
    “Who was that guy?” Moses kept asking journalists after the race. He didn’t seem to be paying attention to the questions at first. All he really wanted to know was “who was that guy?” But he gave his time to us.
      He said: “I was not happy with my time. I was feeling the effects of the long travel. But I enjoyed the race. I have run on worse tracks than this one and I think I can do better next time. I would very much like to come back again and compete here one day before long.”
      He made friendship with my colleague, Gishinga Njoroge and kept his promises. He came back the following year, ready to run. But guess what happened?
      KAAA officials did not even inform him that there was no second Jomo Kenyatta International Athletics Meeting. He came at his own expense only to find exactly nothing.
     He tried to find out from Gishinga what exactly the status was. Gishinga was a journalist, not a KAAA official. But he took it upon himself to apologise to Moses for all the trouble and expense. Moses took it all in his majestic stride. Of course, he never came back again – and it was all out fault and loss.
     However, thanks to the Jomo Kenyatta Memorial Meeting, of the finest people that my profession has given me the privilege to meet, I rank Edwin Moses among the highest. I cannot forget the champion’s humility and his sincere bewilderment at an unexpected challenger. I met a great man unblemished by any hint of arrogance. And decades later, I appreciate the camaraderie with which he treated a 20-year-old reporter.
     Alberto Salazar gave me an early lesson in politics. At the time I met him, I was a fan of the mercurial Cuban revolutionary leader, Fidel Castro. What I didn’t know was that I was going to meet an anti-Castro man who knew Fidel – and like him. His race didn’t go well and I wanted to know why. I waited for him to warm down. That is when Salazar told me his story.
     Regarding the race, he said he had a stomach upset. In ordinary circumstances, he would have withdrawn before the competition started. But he had come from so far and he had liked the country so much that he felt the only right thing to do was to tough it out. I told him ‘sorry’, and he nodded with acceptance at my admiration for his endurance.
     He told me that his father was an admirer of Fidel Castro but when the Cuban Revolution took a turn for Communism, his parents fled with him to the United States. They wanted freedom and raised him wanting freedom, he told me. Salazar spoke softly but compellingly.
     He said he was happy to be in Kenya, a great athletic nation and that he looked forward to our brotherhood for years to come. I remember telling him: “We shall meet many times after this. Thank you for the time.” Alas, we have never met again!
     I have been reading stories about the queries he has been asked about doping lately but I hope, just for old times’ sake, that he is the same nice guy that I met as an athlete so long ago. I admired his endeavour, especially after he told me the truth of his situation.
      Sorry, I have not given you many results of the first and only Jomo Kenyatta International Athletics Meeting. If space allowed me, I would have told you about our champion, James Atuti and the schoolgirl, Elizabeth Onyambu. I would have told you about Ruth Waithera and Rose Tata-Muya and many other stars who shone that day. But my space is limited.
     So there you have it. Enjoy the World U-18s. But never forget that day, June 20, 1979, at the Nairobi City Stadium, when the heaviest of the heaviest in the world of athletics were here.

Friday, July 21, 2017

V 7 N. 45 Jon Hendershott's Most Memorable Women's Sprints & Hurdles


Part VII—Women’s Sprints & Hurdles.

by Jon Hendershott

Gail Devers won the ’92 Olympic century title in Barcelona by 1/100th of a second over Jamaica’s Juliet Cuthbert, 10.82-10.83. At the next year’s World Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, southern California native Devers tangled again with a Jamaican great—Merlene Ottey—and the outcome ended up being even closer. It also is my most memorable women’s century.
Gail Devers

Melene Ottey
In the August 16 final, the prime pair had to contend with both reigning Games 200 champion Gwen Torrence and Russian medalist Irina Privalova. Bullet-starter Devers had a slight edge by 60-meters, while Ottey and Torrence had collared the Russian. Ottey pulled even with Devers in the final 5 meters and they dipped together at the line.

It was impossible to tell with the naked eye who had won. After several minutes, the official word came out: Devers 1st with Ottey 2nd, both clocking 10.82. Jamaican officials lodged a protest and meet timers again reviewed the finish picture. The view from a camera on the inside of the track showed Devers to have dipped her right shoulder ever so slightly ahead of Ottey’s torso.

Stuttgart 1993 Women's 100

Atlanta 1992 Women's 100

As well, the phototimer also gave Devers a time of 10.811 to 10.812 for Ottey. One one-thousandth of a second difference. It can’t get closer than that. In the medal ceremony, Ottey—so often a silver or bronze medalist at the Olympics and Worlds, but never a champion—received a standing ovation from the German fans that was timed at more than two minutes.

(Three days later in Stuttgart, Ottey finally ended her gold-medal drought by taking the 200 win from Torrence, 21.98-22.00. Ottey retained her title two years later in Göteborg—but only after initial winner Torrence was DQ’ed for five steps on the line around the turn. Ottey timed 22.12, the same time as silver winner Privalova.)

Then at the ’96 Olympics in Atlanta, Devers and Ottey waged another closerthanthis battle, the American defending her crown as both were credited with 10.94 times. But the phototimer also revealed that Devers won by a margin of 0.005—yes, five one-thousandths. Incredible racing in all the contests—and thank goodness for the development of such precise timing. Otherwise, we might never really know the “margins” between the racers.

Most often, it takes an Olympic or World Championships final to bring together all the best in an event. But every so often, an invitational is lucky enough to draw many (or all) or an event’s best. Such was the case at this  year’s Prefontaine Classic, the lone U.S. stop on the IAAF’s Diamond League circuit and perennially one of the single best meets in the world every season.
Torrie Bowie
For the May 27 half-lapper, the Pre meet featured all three Rio Olympic medalists: champion Elaine Thompson of Jamaica, silver winner Dafne Schippers of Holland and bronze medalist Tori Bowie of the U.S. Add in 400 champ Shaunae Miller-Uibo (Bahamas), no less than ultra-experienced American Allyson Felix (in her individual-race debut for ’17), plus Rio 4th-placer Marie Josée Ta Lou (Cote d’Ivorie) and 8th-placer Ivet Lalova-Collio (Bulgaria) and you had a Games-/Worlds-level field right at Hayward Field.

Women's 200 Prefontaine 2017

But Bowie didn’t give anyone else the chance to win. She powered around the turn in lane 7 and came into the homestretch with perhaps a two-foot lead. She turned back the closing rush by Miller-Uibo on the outside in lane 8 as well as Thompson in 6.
Bowie clocked a personal-best and ’17-leading 21.77 to claim a share of No. 5 American performer all-time as she outran Miller-Uibo (National Record 21.99), Thompson (21.98), Schippers (22.30), Felix (22.33) and Ta Lou (22.37). It was only the third race in history with three finishers ducking under 22.0.

Said Bowie, “My coach Lance Brauman said I was capable of running 21.7 this year. I just wanted to come out and set a PR. I did that, so I’m happy.” I was happy, too, having had the chance to see such a superb race so close to home.

The ’08 Olympic Trials men’s 800 finish produced what I consider the loudest finish I have ever heard in a men’s race—the three Beijing team spots being claimed by Oregon-raised or developed runners Nick Symmonds, Andrew Wheating and Christian Smith in a pulsatingly-close finish as Hayward Field’s faithful screamed their lungs out.
Cathy Freeman
But the single loudest crowd noise I have ever heard at any meet came eight years previously, in Sydney’s Olympic stadium for the women’s 400 final. Some 112,000 of my closest Aussie mates eagerly looked forward to home daughter Cathy Freeman stepping up one place from her silver-winning slot in Atlanta ’96 to strike gold this time.

Freeman had been the final torchbearer at the Games’ Opening Ceremonies, being forced to stand several minutes amid dripping water and holding the flaming torch aloft as a platform meant to raise her up to light the cauldron had malfunctioned. But eventually the platform rose and Freeman completed the lighting ritual.

At age 27, Freeman also represented Australia’s indigenous people by virtue of her Aboriginal heritage. She also had won the ’97 and ’99 world one-lap titles, so was one of the most closely-watched home athletes in Oz’s first Games since the ’56 edition farther south in Melbourne.

Freeman took to the track for the September 28 final in lane 6 clad in a full-length, form-fitting body suit, complete with a zip-up hood over her head. Sitting with the T&FN Olympic Tour fans, we all knew this was going to be Australia’s best shot at a gold medal.

Her prime rivals were expected to be Jamaican Lorraine Graham in lane 4 and Briton Katherine Merry in lane 3, the respective 3rd- and 5th-placers from the Seville World Champs race of the year before.

From the instant the gun cracked, the crowd noise hit deafening levels. I stood shoulder-to-shoulder next to office colleague Dan Lilot and at several points during the race we yelled at the top of our lungs into each other’s ears. But we were totally drowned out by the overwhelming din of the crowd around us.

Graham got out fast (23.70) and led Merry (23.90) and Freeman (24.08) by some 3 meters at halfway. Merry moved up around the second turn and was just 0.1 behind Graham’s 35.9 at the 300 mark. But then Freeman began to move into the homestretch…

…And the crowd noise reached a jet-engine roar. She took over with perhaps 75 meters left and went on to win by 4 meters in 49.11 from Graham (49.58) and Merry (49.72, to just edge teammate Donna Fraser by 0.07).

When Freeman hit the finish line, the crowd erupted in one final explosion of booming sound. Beyond the line, Freeman sat down with what I felt was a bewildered look on her face as she unzipped her racing hood. It was almost like she was thinking, “Did I really just do that?”
Sydney Women's 400

She had indeed and the Games had to have been complete for her Aussie compatriots. For me, from then on, every crowd reaction has been measured against the stunning wall of continuous sound that seemed to help carry Freeman around that one triumphant lap.

Poor Gail Devers. While the American star won two Olympic 100 titles, one Worlds century and three WC 100H titles, she never took the Olympic sprint barriers title—or even medaled in the event. The closest she got was a 4th in Atlanta ’96.

But perhaps the closest Devers really got to the Games 100H victory also produced the most memorable race I ever saw in the event. Devers was barreling along with a clear margin in the ’92 Barcelona final, staged on August 6 in the hilltop Montjuïc Olympic Stadium.
Paraskevi Patoulídou
Her sprinting speed, far superior to any of her rivals, had given Devers the lead. She had led the first two rounds with a 12.76 in her quarter-final. USA teammate LaVonna Martin-Floréal twice ran 12.82s, while defender Yordanka Donkova of Bulgaria had run 12.84. They were the only hurdlers under 12.90 in the first two races.

Devers let the third American, Lynda Tolbert, take Semi I in just 13.10, but against a 1.9mps headwind. Martin improved to 12.81 to take Semi II, 0.06 ahead of Donkova with Greece’s lightly-regarded Paraskevi Patoulídou 3rd in an NR 12.88.

Devers took command of the final from Martin by hurdle 2 and sped along what looked like a certain gold medal. But there are few, if any, certainties in the Olympics. By barrier 9, the blue-clad Patoulídou had pushed up to 2nd ahead of Martin and Tolbert. Devers still was in the lead…

…But then came the fateful final hurdle. Video replays later revealed that Devers, in the moment before she rose to the final barrier, took a furtive glance to her right. That’s all the distraction that was needed before Devers whacked the crossbar with her lead right foot and stumbled on landing.

She stretched out and appeared to be almost parallel with the track as the leaders rushed past her. The plucky Devers somehow regained her footing in the final meters and cartwheeled over the line in 12.75 to end up 5th. Tolbert ran the same time for 4th, 0.05 behind bronzer winner Donkova.

Martin clocked a career-fastest 12.69 to grab the silver medal as the astonished Patoulídou claimed a totally unexpected victory in a lifetime best of 12.64. Afterward, the 27-year-old champion—known by her nickname of Voula—said simply, “I won! I don’t believe it!” She had become Greece’s first-ever women’s Olympic track & field champion.

Barcelona 1992 Women's 100M Hurdles

Remarkably composed, Devers reflected, “I got to the last hurdle faster than I ever had before. But when you hit it with your lead foot, your balance is shot. As I went down, my only thought was to finish and I just kept scrambling until I got over the line.”

It had to have been a heart-breaking outcome, yet the unexpected finish helped create a totally improbable, yet utterly memorable, race. So did Patoulídou’s moment-of-a-lifetime performance.
Maybe one should, in recalling most memorable anythings, allow some time after a very recent, but still highly significant, event. Gain perspective and all that. But in thinking about my most notable one-lap hurdles race for the women, I can’t help but call up the recent USATF Championship final in sun-baked Sacramento.
Dalilah Muhammad

True, I had been fortunate enough to see (and report on) World Record races in two consecutive global championships: first, the 52.74 by Britain’s Sally Gunnell in Stuttgart ’93 ahead of Sandra Farmer-Patrick’s American Record of 52.79 in 2nd.

Then two years later in Göteborg the 4th-placer in that Stuttgart race, American Kim Batten, waged a thrilling full-lap contest with teammate Tonja Buford-Bailey before prevailing in a WR 52.61. TBB also ducked under Gunnell’s former record with her 52.62 right behind Batten.

But those superb races were overwhelmed by the sheer quality of the Sacramento final run on June 25. It was simply the highest-quality 400 hurdles race ever run by U.S. women. High school sensation Sydney McLaughlin shattered her own World Junior Record of 54.03 with a superb 53.82—a clocking that would have won the national title in eight of the past nine years. Yet McLaughlin finished only 6th this time.

That’s because all five women ahead of her ran lifetime bests to move to into the top 10 Americans ever. Olympic champion Dalilah Muhammad cut down her best from the 52.88 that won her the ’16 Trials to 52.64 in becoming No. 4 all-time U.S. performer as well as No. 6 globally. And she ran that fast after being hampered by sciatic pain since about a month earlier in the Prefontaine Classic Diamond League race, where she clocked a still-excellent 54.53 yet placed only 5th.

In 2nd, ’15 winner Shamier Little dipped under 53.0 for the first time with 52.75 (No. 9 world performer, No. 5 U.S.) ahead of Collegiate Record holder Kori Carter’s 52.95 (No. 7 U.S. performer). Rio Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Spencer trimmed her best to 53.11 (No. 9 U.S. performer) but missed the London Worlds team by placing 4th. London ’12 Olympian Georganne Moline followed in 5th, still lowering her PR to 53.14.

The 27-year-old Muhammad charged out in lane 5 with Little inside her in 4 and Carter out in 7. Leading with her right leg save for Nos. 8 and 10, Muhammad led off the second curve and maintained a strong final straight. She needed it as Little surged between 7-8 to move into 2nd and then chased hard after Muhammad to the line.

At No. 10, Moline ran 3rd ahead of Carter, but Carter finished stronger to claim the last team spot. Spencer’s big rush on the run-in got her 4th and pushed Moline back to 5th. McLaughlin was a solitary, yet still record-setting, 6th for the race’s second half.

Sacremento 2017 Women's 400m Hurdles

Later, Muhammad said, “Coach [Lawrence “Boogie” Johnson] and the trainers just tried to keep me together. I don’t know how they did it, but they did. I just tried to stay focused on getting stronger every day. But I also feel that you can do anything when you set your mind to it. Anything is possible when you believe you can do it.” Muhammad proved to be her own best example of that belief.

And when asked about getting the first three home under 53-flat, Little observed with a wry smile, “Those ladies—excuse my language—ran their asses off.”
It was a race to behold and then continue to savor in reflection.

(Next: women’s middle distances.)