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Indoor Track Championships : Ashford Runs Like a Winner, Settles for a Tie

Times Staff Writer

Gwen Torrence and Evelyn Ashford crossed the finish line virtually together Friday night in the 55-meter sprint of the USA/Mobil track and field championships at Madison Square Garden.

Torrence, the former Georgia sprinter, said she thought that Ashford had won. She was half right.

Earlier, Torrence was declared the winner after a study of a photo, even though both sprinters had the same time of 6.66 seconds.

Later, when a second photo from a different angle was studied, the race was called a dead heat.

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Ray Washington, Ashford’s husband, had appealed to officials that the first photo was too fuzzy to determine a winner.

So a second photo from a different angle was scrutinized by technicians from Omega Sports Timing.

They couldn’t separate the pair and, after most of an announced crowd of 14,623 had already trudged into the cold night, they declared that Torrence and Ashford were co-champions in the race.

Torrence brought an indoor unbeaten streak of 39 consecutive races into the final. Her streak is still intact at 40, although some purists might want to place an asterisk next to her accomplishment.

Bert Lyle, the women’s referee, said that the only conclusion that could be reached was a dead heat.

Ashford had a different version.

“If I hadn’t seen the second photo, I would have settled for a dead heat,” she said. “However, after seeing it, I thought I won.”

Immediately after the race Ashford said: “I thought I had won it, but then I saw Gwen’s head at the line and I wasn’t sure.”

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Torrence was inclined to agree with Ashford, saying: “I thought she out-leaned me. As for my streak, I don’t even know what it is. It’s not for me, it’s for the press.”

However, there is one thing that Torrence was aware of late Friday night. The dead heat cost her $3,000 in the overall Mobil Grand Prix payoff. She had $5,000 as the winner, but had to settle for $2,000.

Anyway, it was a stirring comeback for Ashford, the 1984 Olympic Games 100-meter gold medalist, who was hampered by illness and injury last year.

Even though she was slightly disappointed that she wasn’t declared the outright winner, Ashford had more reason to smile than Jackie Joyner-Kersee.

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Joyner-Kersee hit the fourth and then the fifth and last hurdle in the women’s 55-meter race and skidded full length on the track just before the finish line.

There was concern that the world champion in the heptathlon and long jump was seriously injured.

But Joyner-Kersee was smiling through interviews a few minutes later even though she said she suffered board burns on an elbow, knee and her stomach.

“I just slid home,” she said, adding, “My blocks slipped at the start, and I became impatient between the first and third hurdles. I was behind and tried to accelerate.”

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She said she hit the fourth hurdle with her knee and her trail foot nicked the fifth hurdle. Despite her mishap, she still sprawled across the finish line in fifth place. Canada’s Judith Rocheleau was the winner in 7.40 seconds, establishing a national record.

“I hoped to come out of the indoor season without any injuries,” Joyner-Kersee said. “What happened tonight will only motivate me more for the outdoor season.”

She was grateful that her injuries weren’t any more serious than floor burns, even though she was uncomfortable.

There were some commendable performances in the indoor championship meet, namely:

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--Antonio McKay won the 400 meters in 46.55 seconds, the fastest time ever on an 11 laps to a mile track.

Earlier, in afternoon heat races, Willie Smith had broken McKay’s 11-lap record of 46.99 with a time of 46.97. But Smith finished second to McKay in the final with a time of 47.02.

“I was running for a record tonight,” McKay said. “He (Smith) had taken something away from me and I wanted it back.”

--Ireland’s Marcus O’Sullivan concluded the indoor season unbeaten in the mile as he outkicked Brian Abshire on the last lap to win in 3:59.85.

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Two weeks ago, O’Sullivan recorded the third-fastest indoor mile in history with a time of 3:50.94 at the U.S. Olympic invitational meet in East Rutherford, N.J.

O’Sullivan said he was just content to win Friday night and Abshire, who set a U.S. record of 7:41.57 in the 3,000 meters at the New Jersey meet, made it easier for him.

The pace was relatively slow and O’Sullivan stayed just a few strides behind Abshire until it was time to kick.

--Greg Foster concluded a successful indoor season by winning the men’s 55-meter hurdles in 6.93 seconds. It was Foster’s fifth national championship.

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There was no post-meet bickering with Tonie Campbell, who finished second, or Renaldo Nehemiah, who didn’t compete. That had been the ongoing scenario among the hurdlers during the indoor season, although Foster has tried to stay above the fray.

“This was my best race of the year,” Foster said. “The fact that everybody has played up the rivalries makes it easier for me to run.”

--Larry Myricks, who will be 32 next month, won the long jump at 27 feet 1/2 inch. He said in 1984 that he wouldn’t be around for 1988, but here he is, primed to make the Olympic team in the long jump and, perhaps, the 200 meters.

--Ray Kimble, another veteran at 33, won the triple jump in the afternoon with a leap of 56-3--fourth longest ever indoors.

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Kimble estimated there were 73 people in the Garden when he won his event.

--Diane Dixon surged past Valerie Brisco in the final straightaway to win the women’s 400 meters in 52.51 seconds.

She had set a U.S. record of 51.95 seconds in an afternoon heat, breaking her mark of 52 seconds.

Even though Ashford would have been happier with an outright victory, she is pleased with the way her comeback is progressing.

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“This is a good springboard for the outdoor season,” she said. “I’m a better outdoors runner than I am indoors. My goal is to be the best woman sprinter (at 100 meters) in the world.”

She has a good start, as the time of 6.66 was her best for the 55-meter distance. As for the photo finish, she’s not going to brood about it.


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