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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | Track and Field

World Beaters

Women's 100: Devers is second to repeat, but Ottey not conceding that she finished second.

July 28, 1996|MIKE PENNER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ATLANTA — The women's Olympic 100-meter squabble--check that, the word they're using this year is sprint--was won again by Gail Devers, same as in 1992, in a photo finish, same as in 1992, to defeat American teammate Gwen Torrence and Jamaica's Merlene Ottey, same as in 1992.

Only this time:

--Ottey and the Jamaican federation filed a protest after she and Devers both clocked in at 10.94 seconds, which sent the matter to the timing technicians, who studied the tape and broke the times down to the thousandth of a second before declaring Devers the winner, 10.932 seconds to 10.937.

--Ottey, whose name rhymes with haughty, and for apparent good reason, got in the face of an Olympic public relations official holding a tape recorder, demanding to know, "Are you an American journalist? Because if you are, I'm not going to talk to you!"

Ottey was distressed about many things. The way she saw the race, Devers' head crossed the finish line first but her torso finished second.

"I believe it's the torso that counts," Ottey said.

She also was stewing about losing this race to Devers in a virtual carbon copy of the 1993 World Championships--another photo finish, another victory by Devers by 0.001 of a second.

"It was one of those close finishes and I lost again," Ottey groused. "I never get used to silver. . . . I wish this race was 102 meters. If it was, I'd have won in a photo finish. But the race is 100 meters and the photo finish says that Gail is first. Which I am not sure about yet."

It will go into the books as Devers' second gold medal in as many Olympic 100-meter runs, making her the second women in history to win this event in successive Olympics. Wyomia Tyus of the United States was the first to repeat, in 1964 and 1968.

Devers was well prepared for this piece of history, having painted her long, curling, talon-like fingernails gold just for the occasion. And she was ready for questions about the Devers-Torrence feud, which she knew would be be asked in the wake of their let's-make-nice jog around the Centennial Olympic Stadium track.

"Let me answer this question," Devers said, leaping toward the microphone in front of her and cutting off Torrence. "There is no rivalry between Gwen and me. We are competitors, and any time we are on the track together, it's a great show.

"A rivalry is something negative. When Gwen and I race, there is nothing negative about it."

Torrence, whose bronze-medal time was 10.96, willingly jumped in to lend support.

"I want to beat Gail, no question," Torrence said. "When Gail's at her best, I'm at my best. When I'm at my best, Gail's at her best. But when it is done, it is done. When you see us out there for 10 seconds, it's a war. But when it's over, it's over."

Moving on to the Ottey-Torrence feud, then . . .

"I've never said anything bad about Merlene," Torrence maintained. "The only [incident] I can ever remember is in Goteborg after the 200."

That would be the one. At the 1995 World Championships in Goteborg, Sweden, Torrence won the 200 meters but was disqualified for stepping outside her lane, eliciting a charge of cheating from Ottey.

"I don't know Merlene," Torrence allowed. "We've never been friendly. She has her clique of friends, I have mine. But I like competing against Merlene. She's always in the thick of things. She runs well in some races and sometimes disappoints in others.

"She's a very good competitor, even at the age of 36. What she's done at her age gives me something to look forward to."

Ottey, absolutely thrilled by this verbal olive branch, sat two seats to the right of Torrence and stared at the back wall of the room, speechless and motionless.

If you can't think of anything nice to say . . .

"At least I got a silver medal," was the best Ottey could manage. "It's better than all the bronzes I have collected over the years."

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