Monday, June 30, 2008

Zola Budd and the 1984 Olympics.

Last night, I was watching a movie called Cashback with my wife-to-be (27 days and counting before I officially call her my wife).

During one part of the movie, the narrator mentioned the first time he was attracted to a woman was when he saw Zola Budd running on TV during the 1984 Summer Olympics.

"Oh, I remember that," my future wife piped up. "Do you?"

A bit embarrassed, I shook my head.

"You mean, you never heard of the Zola Budd incident?" She said this like everyone in the whole world (at least track and field enthusiasts)should have known about this.

Embarrased again, I shook my head.

"Pffffffttt," she said. "And you call yourself a track and field fan."

It's true, I am a track and field fan. I love the pole vault, distance running, dashes, relays, all that good shit.

But, in 1984, I was 12-years old. I was a pubescent boy thinking about girls, running around getting into trouble and seeing movies....tons and tons of summer movies. Kick-ass summer movies such as Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Red Dawn, Purple Rain, Sixteen Candles, The Terminator, The Karate Kid, Footloose, Romancing the Stone, Canonball Run 2, Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan and Splash. To name a few.

I was freaking too busy watching movies, reading comic books and chasing girls to pay attention to anything else!

Plus, although I did participate in track during high school (sprints and pole vault, both terribly by the way), I really didn't get into running as a passion until my freshman year in college.

It wasn't later in life that I truly understoond just how amazing athletes like Steve Prefontaine, Jesse Owens, Carl Owens and Bruce Jenner really were.

So, in hindsight, I can see myself not being that interested in the Olympics at all during this particular time in my life.

In any event, I decided to do some research on Zola Budd and the crazy situation that happened at the 1984 Olympics.

Zola Budd was an Olympic track and field runner from Great Britain. Within a period of less than three years, she twice broke the world record in the women's 5000meters. And twice was the women's winner at the World Cross Country Championships.

But the most amazing thing about Budd was that she always trained and raced barefoot. Now that's cool!

Enter United States running sensation Mary Decker.

In 1982, Decker set six world records at distances ranging from the mile to 10 000 meters. The same year, she received the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States. Plus, Sports Illustrated magazine named her Sportsperson of the Year.

In terms of current popularity, I guess Decker could easily be compared to swimmer Michael Phelps as he heads into the 2008 Summer Olympics.

Now, back to the 1984 Olympics.

On the very first loop of the 3000 meter race Decker, who was heavily favored to win a gold medal, collided with the lead runner Budd causing her to stumble and fall onto the infield and unable to continue.

Immediately, the pro-American Los Angeles crowd began to boo Budd, who (noticably shocked and dismayed at what occurred) fell back to a 7th-place finish.

You can check out the entire race below and see for yourself:

(NOTE: the tripping incident happens around the :30 mark)

In the video, you can see the point where Budd's foot and Decker's leg connect. Trying to maintain stride, Budd immediately jerks her foot free, which causes Decker to fall.

In my opinion, it's no harm, no foul. Although this has never happened to me in any road race that I've run, I probably would do the same thing had my foot been caught on someone behind me.

After the race, Budd was disqualified. An hour later, the disqualification was reversed when the jury had seen that she had not purposely done anything to stop Decker.

According to track and field rules, it is the trailing athlete's responsibility to avoid contact with the runner ahead. However, what was being disputed was whether or not Budd had sufficient control of the race to have pulled into the curve.

A Sports Illustrated article that I found on describes the moment of impact to perfection:

Decker sensed Budd drifting to the inside. "She tried to cut in without being, basically, ahead," Decker would say. But Decker didn't do what a seasoned middle-distance runner would have done. She didn't reach out to Budd's shoulder to let her know she was there, too close behind for Budd to move to the pole. Instead, Decker shortened her stride for a couple of steps. There was contact. Decker's right thigh grazed Budd's left foot. Budd took five more strides, slightly off balance. Trying to regain control, she swayed in slightly to the left. Decker's right foot struck Budd's left calf, low, just above the Achilles tendon. Budd's left leg shot out, and she was near falling. But Decker was falling, tripped by that leg all askew. "To keep from pushing her, I fell," she would say. She reached out after Budd, inadvertently tearing the number from her back and went headlong across the rail onto the infield.

Although many track experts doubt whether she would have beaten eventual winner Maricica Puica of Romania, Decker later went on record to say that she was unfairly robbed of the 3000 meter gold medal by Budd.

Well, there you go. You learn something new everyday.

Oh, yeah, and here's the clip from Cashback referencing Zola Budd:

Very good movie by the way, which has absolutely nothing to do with track and field.