Decker Takes On Wysocki Again Tonight : Coghlan, Making a Comeback, Faces Scott and Walker in Mile

Times Staff Writer

The press conferences are over and the showdown between Mary Decker and Ruth Wysocki in the Sunkist Invitational tonight at the Sports Arena could be anticlimactic.

After all, the women will be racing at 2,000 meters, not talking, and it's doubtful they'll make as many headlines on the track as they have made off it.

Wysocki fired the first verbal shot last week when she said that in last summer's Olympics Decker had revealed herself to the public as the person she really is.

She was referring to Decker's blaming Zola Budd for a collision in the 3,000 meters that knocked the favored Decker off the track and out of the race.

Budd, an 18-year-old South African representing Britain, finished seventh.

"I would like to see Mary apologize to Zola," Wysocki said. "I really feel for this young girl who held Mary as an idol only to be verbally abused by her the way she was." Wysocki also said Decker's image now is one of a crybaby and sourpuss.

Decker retaliated at a later press conference, saying, "I don't feel I have any reason to apologize. . . . If anyone should do any apologizing, it should be Wysocki for talking about things that she doesn't have any information about."

Decker went on to say that she made gestures of friendship toward Budd during and after the Olympics.

Wysocki and Decker have been competing against one another since both were teen-agers, but Decker, who holds six indoor records ranging from 880 yards to two miles, has become one of the most famous runners in the world.

Wysocki came out of virtual obscurity, though, when she upset Decker in the 1,500 meters in the U.S. Olympic track trials.

She doesn't figure to beat Decker tonight. Wysocki is inexperienced as an indoor runner, and Decker has grown up on the boards. In fact, she has not lost indoors since Cindy Poor beat her in the 1976 Sunkist meet.

Decker, who is competing for the first time since her fall in the Olympics, could add another record to her collection tonight in a race that is not a fixture on the indoor circuit. Yekaterina Podkopayeva of the Soviet Union is the world record-holder at 2,000 meters with a time of 5:43.40.

Wysocki says that indoor running is only an experiment for her and she doesn't know what to expect. She tested the boards in a 3,000-meter race in Osaka, Japan, Tuesday night and won in 9 minutes 4.84 seconds. Decker's world record is 8:47.3, so Wysocki has some catching up to do.

Their race is scheduled for 7:54. The open portion of the 26th annual meet will start at 6:30 with the pole vault.

Decker will most likely run away from Wysocki, but there will be other more competitive events:

--Eamonn Coghlan, the acknowledged chairman of the boards in the mile, is making a comeback after missing the 1984 season because of a stress fracture in his right leg.

Coghlan is the world record-holder at 3:49.78 and the only man ever to run a sub-3:50 mile indoors. He will be opposed by two of the world's best milers--Steve Scott and New Zealand's John Walker.

Scott has a fast time of 3:51.8 indoors, four seconds slower than his outdoor best. Walker, the 1976 Olympic gold medalist at 1,500 meters, is the all-time leader in sub-4-minute miles with 94.

--Johnny Gray, the American record-holder in the 800 at 1:42.96, will compete against Earl Jones at 880 yards. Gray ran second to Jones in the 800 at the U.S. Olympic trials, although both had the same time, 1:43.74.

Jones was the Olympic bronze medalist in the 800, while Gray faded and finished seventh. But he was sharp in subsequent European meets, breaking or equaling the American 800 record three times in five days.

--The pole vault has attracted Billy Olson, the American indoor record-holder at 19 feet inch; Dan Ripley, former American outdoor record-holder, and Doug Lytle and Earl Bell, who, with Mike Tully, represented the U.S. in the Olympic Games.

--There will be 26 Olympians competing tonight, including Valerie Brisco-Hooks, a triple gold-medal winner. Brisco-Hooks won the 200 and 400 meters, setting American records in the process, and also ran a leg on the winning 1,600-meter relay team, another U.S. record.

She'll be competing at 440 yards with Florence Griffith as her primary opposition. Griffith was the Olympic silver medalist in the 200.

--No indoor meet would be complete without high jumper Dwight Stones, who, at 31, continues to compete at a high quality level. Stones is the American outdoor record-holder at 7-8 and wants to regain the U.S. indoor record currently held by Jeff Woodard at 7-7 3/4.

Other Olympians competing tonight include high hurdlers Greg Foster and Tonie Campbell, sprinter Innocent Egbunike of Nigeria, quarter-miler Bert Cameron of Jamaica, two-miler Doug Padilla, sprinters Alice Brown and Jeanette Bolden and triple jumper Al Joyner, who will be running the hurdles.

Of interest tonight will be the reception Decker receives from the crowd. She has been a popular athlete and her popularity was at its zenith when she won both the 1,500 and 3,000 at the world championships in Helsinki, Finland, in 1983. Later, she was named Sports Woman of the Year by Sports Illustrated.

Then, there was the unfortunate incident in the Olympics involving Budd. Some people believed that Decker was too harsh in criticizing Budd for the collision and that she should have taken a softer stance.

Asked at her press conference how she believes the public perceives her now, Decker said: "I think the general public respects me because they can relate to a human being. It's not like I'm a statue, or plastic model, or I am up on a pedestal above everyone else. I have feelings and I think people respect that."

Scott believes that the public would figuratively embrace Decker again if she apologized to Budd.

"I think she is so proud . . . it's just so hard to do," he said. "If she would just come out and do it, everybody would go back to loving her and thinking she is the greatest and the whole thing would be forgotten."

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World