The women’s 1,500-meter race, usually as strategic as it is athletic, developed into a kind of drag race Saturday, all horsepower no finesse, when Romania’s Paula Ivan ran from the field, stayed from the field and destroyed the field. She finished in an Olympic record of 3 minutes 53.96 seconds, well ahead of Soviets Lailoute Baikauskaite (4:00.24) and Tatiana Samolenko (4:00.30).
Mary Slaney of Eugene, Ore. completed a disappointing Olympics by finishing eighth in the 12-woman field, in a time of 4:02.49.
The 1,500 often is a calculated affair, with a moving clot of women tracking for the first 3 laps or so, and then one or another of them making what move is available to them. Samolenko, the favorite, is a good example of this. The world champion in both the 1,500-meter and 3,000-meter races, she normally paces herself and, with her remaining reserve, breaks away down the backstretch.
And those who do run ahead in the early going are expected to fall back into the pack, where they presumably belong.
But Ivan, who had the year’s best time of 3:35.96 going into the Olympics, challenged this school of thought by taking the lead in the second lap and then steadily lengthening, stealing the race. Even without someone to push her, she finished in the second fastest time in history only behind the Soviets’ Takiana Kazankina, an 8-year-old record.
“She surprised me,” Slaney said. “In earlier races she did lag back and let other people control the race in early stages. She was obviously going for the world record.”
Ivan’s strategy in that light seems brilliant; she fooled the field into thinking she would eventually drop back but by the time they realized she wouldn’t, it was simply too late to make up ground. Yet she said it was as simple as this: “I knew that after the 3,000-meter (she won the silver medal), I had to run fast all the time.”
Running fast all the time is another strategy the rest of the women might consider.
Slaney, who seems to have run skittishly ever since her fall in the 1984 Olympics, said “the race was a lot faster than I anticipated.” She added that it has been an up-and-down year for her, referring to her inconsistent health in the past 2 months. Asked what was next, she said, “I’m looking forward to the next Olympics,” and she laughed.
A letter apparently accusing Ivan and other, unidentified athletes of submitting phony urine samples was given to International Olympic Committee officials after the race.
The unsigned letter, handwritten in broken English, was passed along to IOC medical teams at the Olympic Stadium by Canadian runner Lynn Williams and her coach Doug Clement, who said it was left for them at the Athletes Village.
“We’re not saying this is true, but whoever wrote this letter was concerned enough to draw attention to it,” said Williams, who finished fifth.
The letter said track and field athletes were carrying rubber vials filled with other people’s urine, then submitting the sample as their own for urinalysis.
However, according to standard IOC protocol, athletes are observed while they produce a sample, so the switching of urine samples is difficult, at best.