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VALLEY / VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS | SYDNEY SPOTLIGHT

Runyan Is Just Happy to Reach 1,500 Finals

September 30, 2000|From Staff and Wire Reports

For Marla Runyan, who runs in the women's 1,500 meters final this morning at Sydney, Australia, her Olympic experience has been a bigger success than she expected.

Runyan, legally blind and the first athlete ever to compete in the Olympics and Paralympics, qualified for the finals on Thursday night. She qualified 11th out of 12 by clocking 4:06.14 in her semifinal, one second off her personal best but nearly four seconds better than she ran in either heat.

"I'm lucky," said the 1987 graduate of Camarillo High. "I keep advancing by the skin of my teeth."

Runyan said she knows that a medal probably is out of reach, so making the finals was her goal.

"The finals are going to be very fast," she said. "I have nothing to lose in the finals. I don't want to say I'll be holding on, but a lot of it I will be holding on and trying to run a personal best, trying to be competitive to the degree I can be."

Runyan finished sixth in her heat, then waited to see if her time held up. She couldn't see the race on television.

"I didn't really see," she said. "I didn't know what was going on. I just waited until somebody told me what their winning time was. Then I figured I'd made it through."

Runyan has an incurable retina condition called Stargardt's Disease that has reduced the middle of her eyesight. Though she can use peripheral vision for activities such as running, competitors appear to her as streaks of color.

She has received e-mails, letters and calls from countries ranging from Israel to Argentina congratulating her on reaching the Olympics, and thanking her for the example she has set.

At first she felt those messages put her under pressure, but then her mind-set changed.

"I have the opportunity to show the world--kids that are losing their vision--what life is going to be like," Runyan said. "Now there's a girl who's legally blind, and she's in the Olympic final.

"I hope parents out there will say, 'I'm going to let my child be whatever she wants to be.' "

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An Achilles' tendon injury led to Deena Drossin's sub-par performance in a qualifying heat of the women's 10,000 meters on Wednesday.

Drossin, a 1991 graduate of Agoura, won the 10,000 in a career best of 31:51.05 in the U.S. Olympic trials at Cal State Sacramento in July, but she timed 34:40.86 to finish a nonqualifying 18th in her heat.

USA Track & Field, the sport's governing body in the U.S., had few details about Drossin's injury, but said it caused her to miss about 10 days of training earlier this month. In a Sept. 23 interview with TNFMedia.com, Drossin expressed doubts about her level of fitness.

"I don't feel tremendously confident in my fitness, but I'm going to go for it," she said. "Some days I feel worse than others, I'm spending a lot of time in the training room."

Although Drossin was no doubt disappointed with her performance in Sydney, this has been the best season of her career.

Her 10,000 clocking in Sacramento moved her to ninth on the all-time U.S. performer list and she also ran career bests of 14:51.62 in the 5,000, 8:42.59 in the 3,000 and 4:07.82 in the 1,500.

The 5,000 time is the second fastest in U.S. history behind the 14:45.35 that Regina Jacobs ran to win the Olympic trials.

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