Mary Decker

Mary Decker

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Mary Decker
Height 5'6" (168 cm)
Weight 112 lbs (51 kg)
Born August 4, 1958 at Flemington, New Jersey, United States
High School Orange (Orange, California), 1976
College Colorado '78
Club Athletics West

Mary Slaney (born Mary Teresa Decker 1958—) is an American former track and field athlete, who holds seven American records in her sport. In 1981 she married marathon runner Ron Tabb. The couple divorced two years later and on January 1, 1985 Decker married discus thrower Richard Slaney.

The only athlete ever to hold every American record from 800 meters to 10,000 meters, Mary Decker Slaney continues to own the U.S. women's records in the 1500 (3:57.12), mile (4:16.71) and 3000 (8:25.83). Her greatest international achievement came at the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki, where she won the 1500 and 3000 meters — a feat that would become known as the "Decker Double" and that helped earn her the title of Sports Illustrated's Sportsperson of the Year for 1983. A year earlier, she set world records in the mile (4:18.08), 2000m (5:32.7), 3000m indoors (8:47.3), 5000m (15:08.26) and 10,000m (31.35.3, in her first race at that distance), and won the AAU Sullivan Award. Over her career, Decker Slaney set 36 national records and 17 official and unofficial world records at various distances. A six-time winner at the Millrose Games in New York, she won her first Millrose crown at age 15 and her last at age 38. Decker Slaney first received international fame at the age of 14 with a surprise victory in the 800 meters at a USA vs. USSR dual meet, and she went on to qualify for four Olympic teams. She competed in her final Olympics in 1996 at the age of 37.


Early career

At the age of 12, Decker ran the 1970 Palos Verde Marathon in the time of 3:09:27.[1]

Making her international track debut as a pigtailed, 89-pound (40 kg) fourteen-year-old girl, "Little Mary Decker" became one of the most famous track and field competitors of her era. She won international acclaim in 1973 with wins in the 800 meter at a US-Soviet meet in Minsk. By 1974, Decker was the world record holder at 2:26.7 for 1000 meters, 2:02.4 for 880 yards, and 2:01.8 for 800 meters.

She did not compete in the 1976 Summer Olympics because of stress fractures in her lower leg, and she missed the 1980 Summer Olympics because of the U.S. Boycott of the Moscow Olympics.

Career peak

In 1982. Decker set six world records, at distances ranging from the mile to 10 000 meters. The following year she achieved a "Decker Double", winning both the 1500 meter and 3000 meter events at the World Championships in Helsinki, Finland. In 1982, she received the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States, and Sports Illustrated magazine named her Sportsperson of the Year for 1983.

Decker was heavily favored to win a gold medal at the 1984 Summer Olympics, held in Los Angeles, California. In the 3000 meters final, Zola Budd, half a stride ahead of Decker, moved to the inside lane, inadvertently crowding Decker, who collided with Budd and fell to the curb. The fall injured Decker's hip, who was unable to resume the race. She was carried from the track by her future husband, Richard Slaney. At a press conference she said that Budd was to blame for the collision. (In track races it is generally the trailing athlete's responsibility to avoid contact with the runner ahead; on the other hand, it is an accepted convention among most distance runners that the leader should be a full stride ahead before cutting in.) Officials initially disqualified Budd for obstruction, but she was reinstated just one hour later after officials had viewed films of the race.

Decker returned to competition in January 1985, winning the Sunkist Invitational Indoor 2000 meters race, also in Los Angeles. Asked to apologize for her comments about Budd, she answered: "I don't feel that I have any reason to apologize. I was wronged, like anyone else in that situation."

Decker and Budd next met in July 1985, in a 3000 meters race at Crystal Palace National Sports Centre in London, England. Decker won the race, and Budd finished in fourth place. After the race, the two women shook hands and made up. Decker later went on record as claiming that she was unfairly robbed of the LA 3000 meter Gold Medal by Budd, although many track experts doubt whether she would have beaten eventual winner Maricica Puica. Decker said many years after the event “The reason I fell, some people think she tripped me deliberately. I happen to know that wasn’t the case at all. The reason I fell is because I am and was very inexperienced in running in a pack." [2]

Decker had a magnificent season in 1985, winning twelve prestigious mile and 3000 meters races in the European athletics calendar. She sat out the 1986 season to give birth to her only child, daughter Ashley Lynn (born May 30, 1986), but missed the 1987 season through injury, failed to medal at the 1988 Summer Olympics and did not qualify for the 1992 Summer Olympics.

Decker was coached by Luiz Alberto de Oliveira[3]

Drug controversy

In 1996, at the age of 37, as she qualified for the 5000 meters at the 1996 Summer Olympics, Decker became involved in a drug controversy. A urine test taken in June at the Olympic Trials showed a testosterone to epitestosterone (T/E) ratio greater than the allowable maximum of six to one. Disputes over that test result went on for years and the test remains controversial.

Decker argued that the T/E ratio test is unreliable for women, especially women in their late 30s or older who are taking birth control pills. One percent of all adult woman, and a higher percentage of older women, have T/E ratios of 6-to-1 and above. (In the meantime, Decker was eliminated in the preliminary heat of the Olympic 5000m with a 15:41.30.) An International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) arbitration panel eventually ruled it unnecessary to show that a T/E ratio was high because of a banned substance; the mere fact that the ratio was over the allowable maximum was enough. USATF sided with Decker.

In June, 1997, the IAAF banned Decker from competition. In September, a USATF panel reinstated her. The IAAF cleared her to compete but took the case to arbitration. In April, 1999, the arbitration panel ruled against her, after which the IAAF stripped her of a silver medal she had won in the 1500 meters at the 1997 World Indoor Championships. Decker was banned for two years, until June 16, 1998.[4]

Decker filed suit in United States courts against both the IAAF and the U.S. Olympic Committee which administered the test, arguing that the test is flawed and cannot distinguish between androgens caused by the use of banned substances and androgens resulting from the use of birth control pills. The court ruled that it had no jurisdiction, a decision which was upheld on appeal.

Later life

In 2000, at the age of 42, Decker again attempted to return to the Olympics, but failed to qualify.

Personal records

  • 800 m - 1:56.90
  • 1,500 m - 3:57.12
  • 1 mi. - 4:16.71
  • 3,000 m - 8:25.83
  • 5,000 m - 15:06.53
  • 10,000 m - 31:35.30

Records Held

  • American Record: 800 m - 1:56.90 (August 16, 1985 - )
  • American Record: 1,500 m - 3:57.12 (July 26, 1983 - )
  • American Record: 1 mi. - 4:16.71 (August 21, 1985 - )
  • American Record: 3,000 m - 8:25.83 (September 7, 1985 - )
  • American Record: 5,000 m - 15:06.53 (June 1, 1985 - )
  • American Record: 10,000 m - 31:35.30 (July 16, 1982 - )


  • 1988 Olympics: 1,500 m (8th)
  • 1988 Olympics: 3,000 m (10th)
  • 1983 World Outdoors: 1,500 m (1st)
  • 1983 World Outdoors: 3,000 m (1st)


Decker was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2003 and the RRCA Hall of Fame in 1993.

Decker won the USATF Jesse Owens Award in 1983.[5] She also won the Sullivan Award in 1982, was named the Associated Press Athlete of the Year (female) 1982, and the Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year 1983.

External links


  1. Litsky, Frank. "Slaney May Try Marathon", New York Times, February 3, 2001. Retrieved on 2008-11-21..
  3. Retrieved 2008-11-19.
  4. Retrieved 2008-11-19.
  5. Retrieved 2008-11-19.