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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.