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Atlanta 1996 Olympics / The Countdown: 40 Days To The
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Olympic Scene : Devers Story Could Get Even Better Ending

June 09, 1996|RANDY HARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

When the TV movie of her life, "Run For the Dream: The Gail Devers Story," has its premiere next Sunday night, she hopes to have already begun working on the sequel.

Devers, who overcame a career-threatening illness to win a gold medal four years ago in Barcelona, begins defense of her 100-meter title Friday at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials in Atlanta.

She is not favored. Sprinter Gwen Torrence has become the sport's new cover girl in the United States. In the Atlanta Grand Prix two weeks ago, she won the 100 in the world's best time this year, 10.85 seconds, while Devers was sixth in 11.20.

But Torrence was still looking over her shoulder after the race. "I know that's not the Gail Devers I'll see in June," she said.

Devers, 29, of Mission Hills in the San Fernando Valley, cannot be dismissed easily, as she proved in 1992. Seventeen months after she was found to have Graves' disease, a thyroid disorder resulting in complications that made it difficult for her to even walk, the former UCLA All-American became known as the world's premier female runner.

That became the inspiration for the Showtime movie, starring Charlayne Woodard as Devers and Lou Gossett Jr. as Coach Bob Kersee. Having seen Gossett as the no-nonsense marine drill instructor in the movie "An Officer and a Gentleman," producers had to search no more to find their Kersee.

Since winning the 100 and the 100-meter hurdles in the 1993 world championships, Devers has been further challenged by various injuries and illnesses. Although she won another hurdles title in the 1995 world championships, problems with her hamstrings prevented her from doubling in the sprint. This year, she started slowly while seeking new medication for her thyroid that has no side effects.

"I've never reached the point where I say, 'I'm not healthy, I'm going to give up,' " she said recently while participating in a Nike-sponsored P.L.A.Y. (Participate in the Lives of America's Youth) Day in Inglewood. "But I have definitely learned patience. God never promised that every day would bring sunshine. There are storms and earthquakes.

"If I had my life to do over, I would do it the same way. The things that have happened have changed me and made me a stronger person."

There is, however, one thing that Devers would like to correct. She was within a few meters in 1992 of adding the 100-meter hurdles title to the one she won in the open 100 when she tripped over the last of 10 hurdles. Crawling to the finish line, she finished fifth. She plans to win this year.

"When I picked myself up off the track in 1992, I told myself I'd be back in 1996," she said. "I wasn't going to let that obstacle become a hurdle in my life."

FACTOID

The U.S. delegation for the Olympics will number a record 1,065. That includes 894 athletes--408 men and 294 women.

NEWSMAKER

Connie Paraskevin-Young of Corona del Mar made her fifth Olympic team Thursday at the U.S. cycling trials in Trexlertown, Pa. It almost certainly would have been her sixth if there had been events on the track for women in 1984.

Paraskevin-Young, who made U.S. Olympic teams in 1980 and '84 in speedskating, was a cycling world champion in '84. But the only event for female cyclists in Los Angeles was a road race. A sprinter, she had to wait until four years later to compete in the Summer Olympics. She won a bronze medal in Seoul.

Two more women's track events since have been added, but the program is still weighted toward the men with five events.

"The men still have more events, and even when the Olympics added another women's event this year, they didn't add spots," said Paraskevin-Young, 34, who won the women's match sprint in Trexlertown over another speedskater/cyclist, Chris Witty.

The women's points race is new to the Olympics, but no U.S. woman will be selected for the event. One of the two women going to the Olympics in cycling must double.

"That's really sad because we have a lot of good women points racers," Paraskevin-Young said.

LAUREL WREATH

Bill Toomey, decathlon gold medalist in 1968, donated the $30,000 he won during the taping of Olympic Week for "Wheel of Fortune" to the governing body for U.S. water polo.

THORN WREATH

New England Revolution Coach Frank Stapleton is grumbling because he might lose his star defender, Alexi Lalas, for a portion of the Major League Soccer season. Lalas wants to represent the United States in the Olympics.

Olympic Scene Notes

Dan O'Brien was the decathlon gold-medal favorite in 1992 until he failed to make the team because he did not clear a height in the pole vault during the U.S. trials in New Orleans. Hoping to avoid a repeat, he "begged" Atlanta Grand Prix organizers two weeks ago to add the pole vault to a mini-decathlon so that he could practice for the upcoming trials in the same stadium. "I was the only guy that didn't vault in New Orleans before the trials," he said. "I didn't want to come into the trials here cold."

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