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ary Decker was a childhood prodigy, running extraordinary times from the age of 11. If the rules had allowed,

she would have been good enough to run for the United States in the 1972 Munich Olympics, but her age of 14 was too young to compete. She finished the year ranked number one in the USA and fourth in the world in the 800m. An incredible career was ready to be mapped out.

RECORD BREAKER In 1973 came the first of her litany of

world records, a 4:40.1 indoor mile. By the time she was 15 years-old, Decker was lauded as the best in the world outdoors at 1000m and 800m. By the end of 1974, Decker was the

world record holder at 2:26.7 for 1000m and 2:01.8 for 800m but had developed muscle condition compartment syndrome, a problem caused by excessive strain on the body. The voracious Decker had done too much, too soon for her young frame. A series of injuries derived from the condition in her lower leg caused her to miss the 1976 Montreal Olympics and she was forced to undergo surgery. Ever resilient, Decker bounced back after a lengthy recovery period to break


the world record for the mile, a 4:17.55 effort meaning she was the first woman to duck under 4:20. In 1982 Decker set six world records, at distances ranging from the mile to 10,000m, with almost metronomic ease. She was becoming virtually untouchable and was the queen of the inaugural World Championships in 1983, clinching gold in both the 1500m and 3000m in Helsinki.

HITTING THE DECKS It seemed preordained that Decker, the

golden girl of American athletics and brought up in the Golden State of California, would crown her career with a gold at the 1984 Olympics held in Los Angeles. The build-up to the 3000m final was dominated by the presence of the prodigious talent of 18-year-old Zola Budd, who had run the fastest time ever recorded by a woman at 5000m (then not an Olympic event) earlier that

In 1982 the

untouchable Decker set six world records with almost

metronomic ease


For all Mary Decker’s glorious achievements – including 17 world records – she will always be remembered for her worst moment… the famous clash with fellow heroine, Zola Budd in the 1984 Olympic 3000m final, which left her writhing on the track in tears. Adrian Hill reports

year in South Africa, before being fast-tracked to British citizenship at the behest of the Daily Mail. The race developed as Decker set the pace, with barefooted Budd running alongside, a fellow front-runner by nature itching to get ahead. They were tracked by Budd’s team-mate Wendy Sly and Romania’s Maricicia Puica. Coming down the home straight with just over three laps to go, Budd tried to ease to the front, made contact with Decker, and the American fell spectacularly to the floor and writhed in agony with an injured hip. Puica went on to win the race but that was largely a side issue for most observers as the drama unfolded, with Decker carried off in tears by boyfriend and former British discus thrower Richard Slaney. Budd was initially disqualified, but

she was reinstated an hour later. That didn’t stop Decker furiously blaming Budd for the collision at the post-race media conference.

KEEP ON RUNNING Decker, now married to Slaney (a name

she became as well-known by as Decker) returned to competition in January 1985 and promptly broke the indoor 2000m world record. This was the start of a brilliant comeback campaign, highlighted by setting a


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