Wednesday, July 26, 2017

V 7 N. 48 (8) Jon Hendershott's Favorite Women's Middle Distance Races


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)

1 comment:

David F. Webb said...

Hendershottt, why no cometary about the Czech, E. Gernan and Russian doping. A blind eye to outrage? Write about clean races.

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