Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Slaney Looks to Avenge Stumbles

ATLANTA -- They won't let her forget; not her competitors, not the media, not the fans. Not the people who control the giant television screen in Olympic Stadium.


Wherever Mary Slaney goes, she still is running into Zola Budd.


It was a Monday evening in early June, a momentous night in the comeback of Mary Slaney, nearly 38. She had just run one of the finest tactical races of her career in the 5,000 meters, a new Olympic event for women, finishing second to qualify for her fourth U.S. Olympic team, and first in eight years.


Slaney was running a victory lap; meanwhile, over and over, the television screen showed how she nearly tripped after her foot bumped Amy Rudolph with 200 meters remaining in the race. Slaney stumbled, but regained her balance immediately. Then the screen showed another scene. Tiny, barefoot Zola Budd was cutting in front of a much younger Mary Slaney in the Los Angeles Coliseum in 1984. Slaney was tumbling to the ground, grabbing Budd's race number along the way. As she lay beside the track, the others went on without her.


She will never forget Budd.


"When the Olympics were given to Atlanta, I thought, 'I want to be there,'" Slaney said the other day. "The last time the Olympics were on U.S. soil, I ended up in the soil.''


Before the countless injuries nearly destroyed her career, before she became known for screaming in agony by the Olympic track in Los Angeles, Slaney was unstoppable.


"When I was younger,'' she said, "I led everything. I didn't have the opportunity to be around other runners. Now I'm getting used to handling contact in races. I'm getting used to running behind people. I like it.''


She ran a 4-minute, 55-second mile at the age of 13. She was not allowed to compete in the 1972 Munich Olympics because she was too young. She missed Montreal in 1976 with a shin injury. She set four records in a month in 1980, but missed the Olympics because of the U.S. boycott.


It's easy to forget how good Slaney was. Good enough to set five U.S. records from the 800 meters through the 3,000 within 26 months from 1983 to 1985. Good enough to hold those records still.


She also, on occasion, could destroy herself by her obsession with training, with pushing herself harder and harder.


"Mary is like a racehorse,'' said Alberto Salazar, the great marathoner who is now her coach. "She's got a lot of heart, but she will run herself into the ground. She's so biomechanically gifted, she runs much faster than she should run.''


For the first time in a long time she is injury-free and running well. "With so many injuries and so many setbacks, I want another chance. But anything can happen in the final, as we all know.''