Mary Slaney was rounding a curve at Olympic Stadium when, all of a sudden, her knees began to buckle. Oh no, she must have been thinking. Not again.
The same thing happened 12 years earlier at the Los Angeles Games. Slaney became entangled with Zola Budd in the 3,000 meters, a collision that sent Slaney tumbling to the track and came to symbolize a career that plunged into a series of injuries and unfulfilled promise.Monday night, trying to revive her career at age 37, Slaney's body lurched forward once again at the U.S. track and field trials as she attempted to qualify for the Olympic team in the women's 5,000 meters.
This time, though, she didn't fall.
"At the top of the turn, I was getting into my momentum and my foot got caught," Slaney said. "There was a little bit of a flashback, but I'm trying not to flash back very far."
Regaining her balance and showing a great finishing kick that belied her advancing years, Slaney rallied to finish second in the 5,000 and complete an improbable comeback by qualifying for her first Olympics since 1988.
Well, maybe she hasn't completed the comeback just yet.
"I'm really going to work hard over the next month," she told the fans who rose from their seats in the final few laps to urge her on. "I want to be in the medal hunt when I come back here for the Olympics."Maybe Slaney will be able to erase some of those bitter Olympic memories when she returns for the Atlanta Games. Despite her status as the greatest women's distance runner in American track history, she has never finished higher than eighth in the Olympics and remains tormented by her collision with Budd.
"In 1984, I didn't handle it very well, and I ended up on the track," she said. "I am getting better at handling contact, because I'm around people. I didn't have the opportunity to be around other runners before, because I was always leading."
With three laps to go, Slaney found herself laboring in fifth place, a position that would have been unthinkable in her prime. But she gritted her teeth, lengthened her strides and fought her way back into contention.
Amy Rudolph and Cheri Goddard were the first to fall behind as Slaney moved into third - good enough for a spot on the Olympic team. With just over a half-lap to go, after taking over second, her feet hooked up with Libbie Johnson's, but Slaney managed to remain upright.
Coming down the final stretch, she looked over both shoulders as if trying to ensure that no demons from the past were coming up on her heels. Slaney cruised to the line behind Lynn Jennings in a time of 15 minutes, 29.39 seconds.
"I'm glad it's over. It's a relief because I wanted it a lot," Slaney said. "A year ago, I didn't think it would happen, and it's happened."
Jennings' winning time was 15:28.18 and Rudolph finished third to claim the final spot on the team.
In other women's finals Monday night, Tisha Waller won the high jump, Meredith Rainey captured the 800, Cynthea Rhodes placed first in the triple jump and Nicole Carroll won the javelin.
Todd Williams won the men's 10,000 and John Godina became the first American track and field athlete to qualify for two Olympic events this summer when he placed second to Anthony Washington in the men's discus. Godina was second to Randy Barnes in the shot put Saturday.
Michael Johnson, Butch Reynolds and Quincy Watts all advanced easily to Wednesday's final of the men's 400. Carl Lewis will be in the long jump final that same day, but a lackluster qualifying effort left him in danger of missing the team.
Lewis, who already has failed to qualify in the 100 and is vague about his commitment to competing in the 200, finished sixth in the qualifying round with a best leap of 26 feet, 41/4 inches - nearly two feet shorter than he jumped in his prime.
"I didn't want to get too crazy," said Lewis, long jump champion in the last three Olympics. "I didn't think there were any statements to make."
But with a strong field that includes two-time world champion Mike Powell, Mike Conley, Erick Walder and Kareem Streete-Thompson, it may be a struggle for Lewis to finish in the top three in the long jump final.