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Mary Decker

Repairing The Damage

Following the Olympics, Decker underwent six weeks of therapy to heal her injuries, which included a pulled hip muscle. Once her body was healed, Decker started training again. At the same time, she married Richard Slaney—a former discus thrower—and tried to move on with her life. Unfortunately, it was not that easy. Besides working to repair the physical injuries she sustained in the Los Angeles Olympics and build up her family life, Decker also worked to repair her image. Although many initially felt bad for Decker after her collision with Budd, public attitude soon changed when Decker refused to acknowledge Budd's apology and maintained her own innocence in the incident. Decker earned the reputation as a bad loser, and received criticism from fellow runners and the news media. Some speculated that Decker's harsh treatment of Budd also cost the runner additional endorsement contracts from major sponsors.

In January 1985, Decker competed at the Sunkist Invitational indoor track meet in Los Angeles—her first race since the Olympic accident. Some of the public still rankled over Decker's unwillingness to apologize, as was evidenced by the combination of boos and cheers that greeted Decker's pre-race introduction. Still, at this event Decker began repairing the damage to her reputation, and her runner's ego. Throughout the 2,000-meter race, Decker steadily increased the lead between her and Ruth Wysocki—who had trounced Decker's attitude in the press in the weeks leading up to the race. By the time the race was over, Decker had broken the world record and finished nearly twelve seconds ahead of Wysocki.


1958 Born August 4 in Bunnvale, New Jersey
1968 The Decker family relocates to southern California
1969 Enters and wins her first running competition, a parks board cross-country race
1972 Recognized as a world-class runner, but is too young to try out for the 1972 Olympics
1974 X-rays reveal several improperly healed stress fractures in her lower legs
1976 As a high school senior, misses the chance to compete in the 1976 Olympics due to her stress fractures
1977-78 Attends University of Colorado at Boulder on a track scholarship
1980 Sets American record in the 800-meter race and world records in the 880-yard and 1,500-meter races
1980 Qualifies for and is favored to medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, which she misses due to the American boycott of the Games
1981 Marries Ron Tabb
1983 Divorces Ron Tabb
1984 Favored to medal in the 3,000-meter event at the Los Angeles Olympics, but gets her feet tangled with South African runner, Zola Budd; Decker stumbles over the railing into the infield, pulling a hip muscle and falling out of the race
1984 Unable to compete for the rest of the year due to hip injury sustained at the Olympics
1985 Marries Richard Slaney
1986 Misses the 1986 indoor and outdoor running seasons due to the birth of her daughter, Ashley
1987 Misses 1987 outdoor season because of injuries
1988 Misses 1988 indoor season because of injuries
1988 Qualifies for the 1988 Olympic team, but does not medal
1992 Fails to qualify for the 1992 Olympic team
1996 Qualifies for the 1996 Olympic team, but does not medal
1997 At the age of 38, in her first appearance at the U.S. Indoor Championships in 23 years, wins the women's 1,500-meter run
1998 Tests positive for a high level of testosterone, and undergoes a series of related court hearings to determine if she is on steroids
1999 Her name is cleared by the U.S. Track Federation, but the International Federation removes her name from all post-1996 records

Awards and Accomplishments

In her prime in the early 1980s, Decker compiled 36 American and 17 world records in running
Decker still holds four American records, all set between 1983 and 1985
From 1980 to 1984, Decker won every middle-distance race she entered, with the exception of the Olympics
1972 Set an age-group world record in the 800-meter race
1972 Won an international race in the 800-meters
1973 Set three world records: the outdoor 800-meter, the indoor 880 yards, and the indoor 1,000 yards
1973 Ranked first in the United States and fourth in the world in the 800-meter race
1974 Set a U.S. high school record of 2:02.29 in the 800-meter run
1979 Gold medal in the 1500-meter race at the Pan American Games
1980 Set a world record in the mile, with a time of 4:17.55, becoming the first woman to break the 4:20 barrier
1982 Set seven world records
1982 Won Sullivan Award for best amateur athlete
1982 Became first woman to win the Jesse Owens award, presented annually to the best American track and field athlete
1982 Named Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year
1983 Becomes first woman to run 880 yards in less than two minutes
1983 Gold medals in 1,500 meter and 3,000 meter races at the inaugural World Track and Field Championships
1983 Named Sports Illustrated's 1983 Sportsman of the Year
1984 Held American record at every distance between 800 and 10,000 meters
1985 Set a world record in the mile
1985 Set a world record in the indoor 2,000-meter race
1985 Named Sportswoman of the Year by the United States Olympic Committee
1997 Set a new record in the 1,500-meter event in masters competition

While this race was a crowd pleaser, nothing matched the hype drummed up for the 3,000-meter rematch with Budd, nearly a year after their collision at the Olympics. The event took place at London's Crystal Palace in July 1985. Although Decker and Budd had privately resolved their issues with each other, they both looked forward to the rematch, so they could put the track issue to rest, too. In this memorable race, Decker ran strong from the beginning, and although Budd tried to keep up, Decker buried her after the 2,000-meter mark—and everybody else for that matter. Decker's time was nearly six seconds faster than the second-place finisher, and nearly thirteen seconds faster than Budd's time.

Over the next two decades, Decker continued to surprise the world by remaining competitive despite frequent injuries and the effects of aging. Decker qualified for two more Olympic teams, in 1988 and 1996—the latter when she was 38 years old—although she failed to medal in either of them.

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Famous Sports StarsTrack and FieldMary Decker Biography - Little Mary, Olympic Struggles, Repairing The Damage, Chronology, Awards And Accomplishments, Decker's Legacy - CONTACT INFORMATION