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THE SEOUL GAMES / DAY 9 : Slaney Can’t Hold the Pace and Fades to 10th in 3,000

Times Staff Writer

After the great fall of 1984, Mary Decker Slaney returned to the Olympic 3,000 meters final Sunday with hopes of winning the gold medal that she believed fate, and Zola Budd, took from her in Los Angeles.

But Slaney again was disappointed, setting too fast a pace while trying to avoid an accident similar to the one that sent her sprawling into the infield four years ago, and fading to 10th place.

To no one’s surprise, the 1987 world champion, Tatiana Samolenko of the Soviet Union, won in a footrace down the stretch with Romania’s Paula Ivan. They are expected to duel again later this week in the 1,500 meters.

Samolenko won in 8:26.53, an Olympic record, to Ivan’s 8:27.15. Great Britain’s Yvonne Murray was third in 8:29.02.

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The first American to finish was Villanova University’s Vicki Huber, who gamely chased down Slaney and then remained among the leaders until near the end to finish sixth in 8:37.25. The only American ever to run faster is Slaney. Her time Sunday was 8:47.13, almost 21 seconds behind the winner.

“I was a textbook case of what happens when you go out too fast,” said Slaney, who led through the first half of the race, running ahead of a world-record pace by about 10 seconds at one point.

“I just played right into people’s hands.”

Slaney prefers to run from the front to avoid trouble, as she had when her feet and Budd’s became tangled in the 3,000-meter final in 1984. Slaney said she experienced deja vu in the qualifying Friday, when she stumbled on the next-to-last lap and finished fourth in her heat.

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She suffered a strained left calf muscle, which required treatment Saturday.

Slaney had difficulty at the same spot on the track Sunday, appearing to bump into Ivan. Ivan didn’t seem to be affected, but Slaney was knocked momentarily off stride.

“Two days ago, I pulled something in my left calf,” she said. “Tonight, I did it again. It triggered whatever it was in the first place.”

By then, Slaney was already struggling, a victim of her own strategy. After Huber caught her near the midway point of the race, the others soon followed. By the last lap, Slaney was hopelessly out of contention.

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“Well, I made it through the Olympics, just not the way I wanted,” she said. “But it’s one step farther at least.”

She said that she hasn’t decided whether to compete in the 1,500.

“I will try it if the leg’s fine,” she said. “If not, I still have Barcelona (in 1992) to look forward to. My entire career has been built on things other than the Olympics.”

Slaney, 30, has been on three U.S. Olympic teams but has failed to win a medal. She didn’t compete in 1980 because of the boycott.

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“The Olympics mean a lot,” she said. “I’ve been trying so hard and so long for success in the Olympics, but it’s just not there. But I’m not willing to give up.”

Samolenko ran a tactically perfect race. Preferring to rein in the leaders with her kick, she was third with 200 meters remaining, behind Ivan and Murray. But as they entered the stretch, Samolenko moved up to challenge Ivan for first.

Murray appeared willing to settle for the bronze instead of becoming involved in the race down the stretch, which Samolenko won by 4 meters.

“My tactic was to follow a little bit behind and spurt in the end,” she said. “That way, I see what’s happening. It is hard, but you win this way.”

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