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PLAY IT AGAIN : Turner, Fitzgerald-Brown, Page and Hightower to Have Rematch Saturday

June 07, 1985|JULIE CART | Times Staff Writer

Like human tape reels, they are caught in a rewind-replay mode. By a caprice of time and distance, the four of them were involved in the foot race track fans want to talk about. Before, of course, such discussions move on to the Decker-Budd fall.

Their race was before the fall, by two months. In the women's 100-meter hurdles final at last year's U.S. Olympic trials, the first four runners finished within a hundredth of a second.

They have been re-running the race ever since.

There was no race closer nor more controversial at the trials than theirs. The four were fighting for three spots on the Olympic team.

Fittingly, perhaps, the race began with a false start. Then, on the restart, Stephanie Hightower and Kim Turner got out fast. By the sixth hurdle, Benita Fitzgerald-Brown and Pam Page had pulled close to the leaders. Hightower grazed the sixth hurdle, which disturbed her rhythm, and had trouble with the seventh, too.

Hightower's momentary lapse was the break the others needed. To the naked eye, the four finished together. To the timing mechanism, though, Turner was first in 13.12 seconds, followed by Fitzgerald-Brown, Page and Hightower, in that order, although all three were given times of 13.13.

The race was timed by a $1.5-million Swiss Timing system. A Swiss Timing official said that in 24 years, and after viewing photo finishes of more than 10,000 races, he had never seen a race as close.

Mamie Rallins, Hightower's coach, reliving a bit of her own past lodged a protest and implored race officials to look at the photos "just one more time." She looked at negatives of the finish photo under a microscope, she studied enlargements. Rallins was clearly heartbroken and remained distraught for hours afterward.

Not only had her protegee--the American record holder and Olympic favorite--not made the U.S. team, but Rallins' own bitter memories were flooding back.

Rallins, a two-time Olympic hurdler, had missed making the 1968 Olympic final by .001 of a second. She hasn't forgotten.

"I missed the final in a photo-finish by one-thousandth of a second," she said. "The speaker in my (starting) blocks didn't work and I couldn't hear the commands (from the starter). I got out late and I couldn't make it up at the finish line."

Fitzgerald-Brown went on to win the gold medal in the boycott-weakened Games. Turner got the bronze. Page ran what she called the worst race of her life and finished eighth. Hightower watched on television.

Now, the four will be reunited for the first time in Saturday's ARCO-Coliseum meet. It may not be the happiest reunion, but it promises to be a spirited one.

Hightower, who has been training in Columbus, Ohio, still holds the American record of 12.79. Fitzgerald-Brown has recently resumed training in Austin, Tex., where she works part time as an engineer. Page is living and working in Los Angeles. Turner is training in Florida.

Although Hightower is sick up to here with talking about the race, the photos, the protest , the disappointment , she didn't slam the phone down when asked to talk about all of those things again.

"Now that I look back on it, there were some avenues that weren't taken," Hightower said, alluding to the protest. "I don't ever think there will be satisfaction with not making the team. I put a lot of time and effort into preparing for the 1984 Olympic Games. Now, it is a dream not fulfilled. I didn't watch all the Olympics on television, just the hurdles. I was probably trying to protect myself (emotionally)."

Hightower had dished out some pretty serious rips after the trials, saying at one point that no American woman would win a medal. The hurdlers who made the team didn't appreciate those remarks.

"I might have made some negative comments after Olympic trials," Hightower said. "You have to realize that whatever I said was influenced by the pain and hurt I was experiencing at the time. Those comments might not have reflected the true personality of Stephanie Hightower."

Both Fitzgerald-Brown and Page admit now that Hightower's remarks were motivating factors for them during the Games.

"I think more people know me from that race at trials than as an Olympian," Page said. "I was third, fair and square. But it seems there will always be a question."

Fitzgerald-Brown, meanwhile, is at least a little disturbed that even after winning the Olympic race, she is haunted by naysayers. "I still don't believe I have been given the credit I should get, but I've done all I can do," she said. "I've done all the right things: I've won NCAAs, I won the Olympic gold. But, still, all people can remember is that race."

As the undisputed winner of the race in the trials, Turner has been able to stay out of the fray. She had no such immunity at the Games, though.

The Olympic final was almost a rerun of the trials race. Fitzgerald-Brown was the winner, followed by Britain's Shirley Strong. Turner and France's Michele Chardonnet were both timed in 13.06 in a dead heat for the bronze medal.

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