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Running for Respect : Alice Brown Has Won National Titles and Olympic Medals, but the Acclaim She Resolutely Pursues Remains Her Goal

June 11, 1988|MIKE HISERMAN | Times Staff Writer

She has won Olympic gold and been an American record-holder. She is the only woman to win a collegiate championship, The Athletics Congress championship and the Olympic Trials in the same year.

She would be the perfect candidate for an American Express commercial if not for a small hitch: To anyone but the most staunch track and field aficionado, not even her name is familiar.

So Alice Brown, 27, keeps coming back, still hopeful of earning her due. Forget the big houses and fancy cars the other stars of her sport own, she says, just once put her on the cover of Track and Field News.

Better yet, any sponsors out there? For the past two years, Brown has hustled her own transportation and lodging for out-of-town meets. That, she has found, can be a strain, particularly since she works part time and drives more than 100 miles each day from the San Fernando Valley to train at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut.

Life in the fast lane was not supposed to be this way, especially after she accomplished so much. Eight years after being selected to her first Olympic team, Brown is still fighting her way through a detour on the transition road from Fleet Street to Easy Street.

"By now," she said before a workout last week, "I thought I'd be married, have a couple of kids and a nice house."

She laughed as she said it, but Alice Brown always seems to manage a laugh or a joke. In this case, however, it was half-hearted. Her eyes said it was the truth.

Had the United States not boycotted the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, she said, maybe she would have taken her last lap a long time ago.

"When I didn't go in 1980, I wanted to go on to the next one, and then the next one turned out to be the next one, and so on," Brown said.

Perhaps a good performance in '80, coupled with the medals she earned before family and friends at the '84 Games in Los Angeles, would have left her content. Perhaps not.

Brown picked up an Olympic gold medal for running the first leg on the winning 4 x 100-meter relay team. She also earned a silver in the women's 100-meter dash, placing second to countrywoman Evelyn Ashford.

Finally, she assumed, it was time to cash in on her many accomplishments. Surely the sponsors would stumble over themselves and there would be a cushy job offer or two.

Instead, nothing.

"I thought after the Games it might get easier, but if anything it was harder," Brown said. "I was really disappointed. I don't know whether I don't have the personality or what the problem is."

Brown's recourse was to keep running.

"I still feel like I have to prove that I'm a quality athlete," she says. "I think I can run faster. I've run under 11 seconds, but I haven't done it without it being wind-aided. I think I can do it. That, and the gold in the 100 meters."

And no, second place again won't do.

"If you don't win, nobody cares," Brown says. "It's sad, but it's true." And therein lies the problem.

Alice Brown has never been \o7 the \f7 best women's sprinter in America. Even in 1980, when she won the Olympic Trials, she was never recognized as No. 1.

The rankings said she was best in the United States that year, but she was never made to feel that way. Brown simply was sitting on a borrowed throne as far as most track experts were concerned. Her coronation was only temporary while Ashford recovered from a muscle pull.

"It was like, 'Why bother with Alice? She only won because Evelyn wasn't there,' " Brown said.

Since then, she has been among the best, but she never again reached the top.

"She's a hard-knocking veteran who had never really received the recognition she's deserved," said Al Franken, promoter of last week's Pepsi Invitational at UCLA.

"It seems like there has always been someone like Evelyn Ashford around. Alice is like Steve Scott in the mile. They've always been among the best, but probably never \o7 the \f7 best. In some sports that's not a problem, but in track and field, you don't get your due unless you're on top of the world."

That said, it is somewhat ironic that Brown says the only run-in she has ever had with a meet promoter was with Franken and his son, Don.

Brown, who had never placed worse than second in a Pepsi meet, demanded an appearance fee to run in the 100 meters, and the parties haggled before an amount was agreed on, she said. The Frankens had wanted her to run for prize money only.

After that hurdle was crossed, Brown then proceeded to finish a disappointing fifth, prompting a phone call from Don Franken the next day.

"He told me Al was mad because I didn't do as well as he hoped I'd do and he didn't want to pay me," Brown said. "I said, '\o7 He's\f7 disappointed?' \o7 I\f7 wasn't real happy with it either."

Brown expects to get her money but doubts that the same phone call would have been placed had a bigger name suffered through a bad race.

The early morning phone call was the third indignity she had suffered involving that particular race in less than 24 hours. The first was the race itself.

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