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Gail Devers - Back, And Better Than Ever

meter hurdles dash olympics

Now that her feet had been spared, Devers put them to good use. In March 1991, mere months after stopping the radiation treatment, Devers qualified for The Athletics Congress (TAC) meet, a prestigious event where she won the 100-meter hurdles. Devers's performance continued to improve, and in 1992, at the World Track and Field Championships in Tokyo, Devers won a silver medal in the 100-meter hurdles. Under the coaching of Kersee, who encouraged Devers to focus on her performance in the 100-meter dash, Devers qualified for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics in the 100-meter dash and in the 100-meter hurdles. During the qualifying races for the finals of the 100-meter dash, Devers temporarily lost feeling in her feet while she was waiting in the starting blocks.

She shook it out, however, and made it to the finals, which featured one of the closest finishes in Olympic history. Devers crossed the finish line at almost exactly the same time as her four competitors, which included fellow American, Gwen Torrence. Judges analyzed the photo finish, and Devers was declared the victor, despite accusations from other competitors that Devers might have been using performance-enhancing drugs—rumors that were quickly shown to be unfounded. Devers had successfully come back from her debilitating bout with Graves' disease to win an Olympic gold medal. She was not done, however. Several days later, Devers competed in the finals of the 100-meter hurdles, a race that she dominated from the beginning. Unfortunately, Devers's tremendous speed worked against her, and she came up too fast on the final hurdle, hitting it with her lead foot. Devers tripped and fell, stumbling across the finish line in fifth place.

Devers bounced back quickly from this latest setback, and in 1993, she set several indoor track records, including an American record of 6.99 seconds in the 60-meter dash. She also pulled a hamstring muscle, but was healed in time for the World Track and Field Championships in Stuttgart, Germany, where she won both the 100-meter dash and the 100-meter hurdles, something that she had been unable to do in Barcelona. Devers continued to have a strong year, and ultimately finished 1993 with twenty-one wins out of twenty-three races, plus three titles. For this reason, the United States Olympic Committee named Devers the U.S. Female Athlete of the Year.

In 1994, Devers's hamstring injury returned, and she was out of competition for most of the year. Over the next two years, Devers mainly concentrated on training for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, although she did win the 100-meter hurdles at the 1995 World Track and Field Championships. At the Olympics, Devers once again qualified for both the 100-meter dash and the 100-meter hurdles. As in the 1992 Olympics, the finals race was a photo finish, and Devers was once again declared the winner—becoming only the second woman to win consecutive 100-meter titles in the Olympics. At the same time, Devers's fiancee, American triple-jumper Kenny Harrison, also won the gold medal in his event.

Devers also made it to the finals in the 100-meter hurdles. Determined not to make the same mistake she made at the 1992 Olympics, Devers nevertheless came too slow out of the blocks and did not turn in a good performance, finishing fourth. This time around, however, Devers did take home a second gold medal—as part of American women's 4 × 100-meter relay team. Four years later, Devers stunned the track and field world by qualifying for her fourth Olympics, in Sydney, Australia in both the 100-meter hurdles and the 4 × 100 meter relay. Unfortunately, Devers injured a hamstring muscle before the Olympics, and was forced to drop out of the competition. Devers continues to compete, and 2002 featured one of her best seasons yet. After she retires, Devers plans to devote her endless energy and determination to community outreach projects, something that she already does on a part-time basis through her company, Gail Force, Inc.

Dash to Glory

Ninety-five meters into the [1992 Summer] Olympic women's 100-meter dash, the crowd had quit cheering. The sprinters crossed the finish line to exhalations of disbelief, to stunned muttering. The question of who was the fastest woman in the world had just been decided. But no one could tell who she was. She herself didn't know. Here, in a heavenly grove atop Barcelona's Montjuic, five sprinters had expected to reach a lonely pinnacle. Instead, they found themselves on a plateau crowded with virtual equals. …

Five meters from the finish, Devers was passing [Russian Irina] Privalova, [Jamaican Juliet] Cuthbert was catching Devers, [Jamaican Merlene] Ottey was catching Cuthbert, and [American Gwen] Torrence was catching Ottey. The five seemed to merge at the line. Even the blurry, warped finish photo on the scoreboard, freezing the sprinters in the throes of their final efforts, was of no immediate help. But wait. If it's a sentimental favorite you want, look again at Devers, leaning there in lane 2, and listen to what she has endured over the last Olympiad.

Source: Moore, Kenny. Sports Illustrated (August 10, 1992): 12.

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