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Wysocki Takes a Trip Into the Final

U.S. Olympic trials: Despite finishing 1,500-meter semifinal in 11th place, she gets a reprieve after protest.

June 22, 1996|RANDY HARVEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — With 150 meters to run in the 1,500-meter semifinals at the U.S. Olympic track and field trials Friday, her third comeback apparently coming to an abrupt end, 39-year-old Ruth Wysocki let her mind wander. She began thinking about returning home and having another child.

As it turned out, her fourth retirement was her shortest. Even before she crossed the finish line in 11th place in a 12-person race, more than 13 seconds behind the time she needed to qualify for Sunday's final at the Centennial Olympic Stadium, she decided that she had worked too hard to quit now.

"I just need to find a race," she said later.

She didn't have to look too long. Three hours after she finished running, the jury of appeals upheld her manager's protest that Wysocki had been impeded by another runner at the start of the final lap and waived her into the final.

By the time the decision was made to disqualify sixth-place finisher Sarah Thorsett, Wysocki had left the stadium and was not available for comment. Her manager, Tom Sturak of Topanga Canyon, said that her reaction was somewhere between pleased and ecstatic.

"I'm sure Ruth liked it," he said. "But she was kind of casual about it. Her husband, her coach and I looked like we were waiting to get shot by a firing squad while we were waiting for a ruling, and Ruth was out watching the races and chatting amiably with the officials.

"She told me after she ran, 'Hey, the races are all like that.' She didn't ask me to protest. She even thought the incident might have been her fault. But you could tell she was very, very disappointed. You could see it in her eyes."

So Sturak, with nothing to lose by a $50 refundable filing fee, protested.

Oddly enough for a sport as particular as track and field, it was the first real controversy of the trials that started eight days ago. Most of the complaints from athletes have been about the heat and humidity and the hardness of the new track, all of which they believe have caused an inordinate amount of leg problems.

The latest to complain is Gwen Torrence, who said she strained a muscle in her upper left thigh in winning the 100 meters last Saturday and was at less than her best in a third-place finish in her first-round 200 heat Friday. She is concerned about having to run two more rounds today to reach Sunday's final. "I'll just have to gut it out," she said.

Jackie Joyner-Kersee, who could not overcome a cramp and a cold in her rare second-place heptathlon finish last weekend, was still showing the effects Friday, wearing a heavy bandage on her leg as she qualified at an average 22 feet 9 1/4 inches for Sunday's long jump final.

But Carl Lewis, who also blamed a cramp for his eighth-place finish in the 100 last Saturday, since has made the team with a third-place finish in the long jump and looked fresh in finishing second in his first-round 200 heat Friday.

Mary Slaney was not injured, just worn out from finishing second in the 5,000 final Monday and could not get past the 1,500 semifinals Friday, finishing eighth in her heat in 4:15.85. She could not appeal that she was affected by the heavy jostling just as the bell lap began because, for once, she was not involved in it.

"I'm not unhappy," Slaney said. "I'd have liked to have run a faster 1,500 here, but that wasn't my priority coming here. My priority was the 5,000 and making the Olympic team. I accomplished those two priorities."

Wysocki was staggered when her heel was clipped by Thorsett as the tight pack of runners in a tactical race began to spread. When Wysocki raised her hands to catch her balance, Thorsett, trying to protect herself, inadvertently elbowed Wysocki in the chest.

"The next thing I knew, I was standing still," said Wysocki, a lifetime Southern Californian trying to make her second Olympic team, her first since 1984. "It was kinda hard to pick it up at that point. You think, 'Go after them.' But they were gone."

Wysocki said that she wondered if she was at fault because of her long stride. She was involved in a similar incident in last year's national championships, where she fell in the semifinals, jumped back to her feet and managed to qualify for the final. But there was not enough race left for that Friday.

From his vantage point among the crowd of 17,821, Sturak, however, believed that Thorsett was to blame. "She tried to go to the inside without enough room," he said.

After looking at tape, the jury agreed. Besides Wysocki, seventh-place Fran ten Bensel also was awarded a place in the final. Thorsett is expected to appeal today and, and a USATF official said, it is conceivable that she also will be allowed to run Sunday.

Track and Field Notes

In finals run Friday, Mark Croghan won the 3,000-meter steeplechase, Bob Kennedy won the men's 5,000 and Kate Fonshell finished first in the women's 10,000. . . . Gail Devers won her first-round heat in the women's 100-meter hurdles in 12.83. . . . Besides Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson and Mike Marsh also advanced in the 200. Jeff Williams had the best first-round time of 20.10 seconds, Lewis ran 20.30, Johnson 20.61 and 1992 Olympic champion Marsh 20.34. . . . World champion Allen Johnson had the best time of 13.18 seconds in the first round of the 110-meter hurdles. Also reaching the quarterfinals were Mark Crear and two-time Olympic gold medalist Roger Kingdom.

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