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Gwen Torrence

"shoooosh, She Was Gone"

Torrence was the youngest of five children in a working-class family; because she was seven years younger than the next-oldest sibling, she received a lot of attention from her older brothers and sisters. Torrence's mother, Dorothy, told Rick Reilly in Sports Illustrated that Torrence was born with her umbilical cord wrapped around her neck, and that at birth, "she had a strange look in her eye that I never saw in any of my children." Torrence was walking at eight months, and began running when she was three years old. "You'd set her down," her mother told Reilly, "and shoooosh, she was gone."

When Torrence was an infant, her family lived in a housing project in Atlanta; the project was so filled with crime, drugs, and danger that locals called it "Vietnam." By the time Torrance began school, however, they had moved to a better neighborhood in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur, where Torrence attended Columbia High School. A tough child, she was known for beating up anyone who challenged her or hassled her. Paradoxically, she was also known for her sense of fashion, and was voted best dressed girl in the school by her peers.

Torrence's running ability and hot temper combined one day when a fellow student, Fred Lane, teased her by taking her purse and running off with it. Torrence, who was wearing pumps, tight jeans, and a short jacket, took off after him and caught him after a 70-yard spring, snatching her purse out of his hands. Lane later went on to become a football player at Georgia.

Physical education teacher and coach Ray Bonner saw the chase and was astounded that a girl could run down an athlete like Lane. Bonner told Reilly, "We thought Fred Lane was the fastest thing since sliced bread, and she walked him down!" However, he had to convince her to give running a try. She planned to become a hairdresser and had no interest in sports. And she did not want to wear running shoes or athletic shorts, because she felt too conspicuous and ugly in them; she was embarrassed because she thought her legs were too thin.

Bonner let her wear whatever she wanted to wear as long as she ran, and during one gym class in tenth grade, Torrance set an unofficial record in the 200-yard dash. She was wearing patent-leather pumps. After this, Bonner insisted that she wear the proper clothes and shoes to run in; according to Great Women in Sports, he told her that God would be angry with her if she wasted her natural talent.

Torrence went on to become a high school All-American and three-time state champion in the 100 meters and 200 meters. At the 1983 TAC Junior Olympics during her senior year, she won gold medals in both these events. Torrence received an athletic scholarship to the University of Georgia and began her studies there in 1983. She began by taking remedial classes. After four quarters in that program, she moved into the mainstream curriculum, and eventually made the dean's list.


1965 Born in Atlanta, Georgia
1980-83 State champion in 100 meters and High School All-American
1983-87 Attends University of Georgia
1984 Qualifies for Olympic trials, but decides not to compete
1988 Competes in Seoul Olympics
1992 Competes in Barcelona Olympics
1995-96 Widely considered the fastest woman in the world
1996 Competes in Atlanta Olympics
1997 Retires from competition to become a hair stylist and raise her children

In 1984, Torrence qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials, but she did not believe she was good enough to make the team, so she did not go to the trials at all. In 1986, Torrence beat 1984 Olympic gold medalist Evelyn Ashford in the 55-meter dash at the Millrose Games. She won with a time of 6.57 seconds, a Millrose Games record. In 1987, she won NCAA championships in the 55 meters, 100 meters, and 200 meters, and won gold medals in the 100 meters and 200 meters at the World University Games in Zagreb, Yugoslavia.

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Famous Sports StarsTrack and FieldGwen Torrence Biography - "shoooosh, She Was Gone", Chronology, Competes In Olympics, Fastest Woman In The World