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A Fresh Start Is Sprinter's Goal

Track and Field: Torrence says she would like to be remembered as a gold medalist, not a poor loser she was perceived as after drug accusations of '92.

June 11, 1996|ATHELIA KNIGHT | THE WASHINGTON POST

Gwen Torrence would prefer to be remembered for winning two gold medals at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 rather than for the furor she created with her widely quoted and unsubstantiated charges about drug use among her competitors. She also would like people not to think of her as a poor loser.

Torrence won the 200 meters and anchored the victorious U.S. 4x100-meter relay team. But her victories were overshadowed by the controversy she created following her only loss. After placing fourth in the 100 meters, she told reporters she suspected three of her competitors used performance-enhancing drugs, but she refused to name them. American Gail Devers won the gold, followed by Jamaican Julie Cuthbert and Russian Irina Privalova.

Torrence later made a public apology, but the damage had been done.

"I got the bad rap," she said in a telephone interview. "It was said I said what I said because I got fourth place. I didn't get fourth place because of my opinion on drugs. I got fourth place because I had a bad start."

Today Torrence, 30, is in training for the 100-meter dash in Atlanta, and the outspoken track star now chooses her words carefully.

"I said the right thing in the wrong place," she said of the Barcelona incident. "It was blown out of proportion." Prior to the 1992 Games, Torrence said she had made similar comments about drug use by track athletes. She said other athletes have accused her of using drugs.

"Everyone has been accused," she said. "That's the way it is in track and field."

Steroid use has been an issue among track and field athletes for years. At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson, who won the gold medal in the 100, was disqualified after testing positive for steroids. The gold medal was awarded to Carl Lewis, who had finished second.

Since Torrence made her comments in 1992, the international and national governing bodies for track athletes have instituted changes that include unannounced, out-of-competition drug tests. Though she doesn't take credit for such improvements, Torrence said she was pleased with the changes and believes her comments may have helped.

Many of the athletes Torrence spoke about in Barcelona likely will meet her again next month, depending on the outcome of the U.S. track and field championships that begin this week. The women's 100-meter dash at the Olympics could be as tightly contested as the 1992 event, the closest final in Olympic history. Devers, Cuthbert and Torrence each set personal records; Jamaican Merlene Ottey finished fifth, though she was less than one-tenth of a second behind Devers.

"The 100 is a hard event," Torrence said. "That's the one I really want to win. It will be a dogfight. You'll have these four women who want the piece of pie. The other four women (there will be eight contestants in all) are going to be hungry. They've been invited to the party and they want a piece of pie, too."

Torrence said she will have to run "extremely perfect" to win the 100, and a good start will be essential.

"I can't get that start I had in '92," she said. "I can't be one step behind or two steps behind. ... I have to be more aware of the starting gun."

Working on her start has been part of her training program with her husband and coach, Manley Waller Jr., who quit his job last year to help Torrence prepare for the Olympics.

"The 100 sends me into a different world," said Torrence, whose best time in the event is 10.82 seconds, Devers' winning time in '92.

Torrence said she is so focused after she gets into the set position that she can't hear or see anything, but listens for the gun to start. Once it sounds, she said, "I'm concentrating so hard, I don't have time to think. I'm aware of my surroundings and I can see if someone passes me. But other than that I just get out there and run."

She insisted she doesn't hear the crowd until the race is over. And when she wins, she said, "I want to run around that track. I go for the victory lap. That's where our bills are paid."

Torrence said she and her main rivals -- Devers, Privalova and Ottey -- respect each other, though they are not close friends. She said it is difficult to become friends because of the nature of the competition in the 100.

"In my sport, I have to be aggressive or I'll be left in the wind," Torrence said. "If you look at all eight of us (at the start of the race), the one who has the smiling face is the one who will lose, and it won't be me."

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