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LOOKING BACK / 1984 OLYMPICS DAY 14 IN L.A.

Women's Race Was Quite a Trip

August 10, 2004|Bill Dwyre

The race was finally on, and when the star-studded field left the starting line for the women's 3,000 meters, much of the world that cares about sports was tuned in.

So when American star Mary Decker tripped on the foot of barefoot-running teenager Zola Budd, of Britain by way of South Africa and a controversial last-second visa, the collective gasp could be heard everywhere.

Decker went down, clutching Budd's number, 151, torn off her competitor's back as she reached to catch herself before falling. Budd led for a while, then faded badly, bombarded each time around the track by a wall of boos from the huge Coliseum crowd, and finished seventh.

Maricica Puica of Romania, whom many had thought would win, did just that in 8 minutes 35.96 seconds.

The accident took place away from the prime photo positions, so nobody got the real moment -- except for a man from Santa Barbara named Hiram Clawson, sitting in the stands directly opposite where Decker clipped Budd's heels. A Times photographer heard him yelling that he had the shot and rushed him to The Times' photo lab, where it turned out he was right. The next day, the picture by a now amply compensated Clawson led the Olympic section, showing Decker on her way to the ground, No. 151 in hand, and Budd lurching off balance.

Also, the U.S. men's basketball team won the gold in a 96-65 romp over Spain, and afterward, U.S. Coach Bob Knight sparred with reporters. The suggestion was made that it might not have been so easy, had the Soviets been there.

Knight replied, "If you know that, then you aren't as smart as I thought you were. But then, I didn't think you are very smart, anyway."

Henry Marsh, the best U.S. hope in the steeplechase, finished a disappointing fourth in a race disrupted by a man running onto the track with a sign that read, "Our Earth at Peace. One Human Family."

Former President Nixon wrote an essay for The Times of his Olympic memories, and said his best one was of going to the Coliseum for the '32 Games when he was young man and watching Billy Carr set a world record in the 400 at 46.4.

Soccer continued to be the attendance success story of the Games. Yugoslavia beat Italy in the bronze-medal game at the Rose Bowl, before 100,374. L.A. Olympic organizers, so certain that this sort of fan showing would finally persuade ABC to shift its schedule and give soccer some exposure in the United States, painted some of the worn grass spots on the field green. But ABC showed something else.

And The Times' Richard Hoffer, having completed a fine run of phrasemaking in his coverage of artistic gymnastics, moved to the rhythmic events, where he wrote, tongue in cheek, about 15-year-old girls in leotards, spinning ribbons that were blown off course by uncooperative air-conditioning systems and exercises planned to music that didn't get turned on.

This typical line by Hoffer, now with Sports Illustrated, brought dozens of phone calls to the sports editor from angry mothers of performers: "She's like a little Slinky, and you don't know when she'll uncoil."

-- Bill Dwyre

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