Mary Decker Trips and Loses Chance for Gold – August 10,1984
The Women’s 3,000 Meter run made its debut at the 1984 Olympics, in Los Angeles. Much attention was focused on the race because one of the favorites, Zola Budd, was born and raised in South Africa. In January of 1984, the 17-year-old Budd, running barefoot in Stellenbosch, South Africa, broke Mary Decker’s world record in the 5,000 meters. Budd’s time was not recognized by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) because she was a South African. South Africa at the time was excluded by the IAAF and the International Olympic Committee, because the ruling National Party was still enforcing its official policy of Apartheid.
After “breaking” Decker’s record, Budd dreamed of testing against herself against her idol, Mary Decker. With the political situation in South Africa however, any side by side competition with Decker was not even a remote possibility. However, Frank Budd, Zola’s father, had other ideas. Frank Budd’s father was born in London. That meant that he was eligible to receive an Brittish passport. So thinking that perhaps Zola could compete in the 1988 Olympics, he applied
Then the media/political circus began. David English, editor of The Daily Mail got wind of the story. He made a few phone calls, some strings were pulled, and ten days later Zola Budd had an Brittish passport and was eligible to run for Great Britain at the LA Olympics.
While Budd had the more interesting, controversial story, Decker was still the prohibitive favorite to the gold medal in the 3,000. In 1983 she won both the 1,500 and the 3,000 at the World Championships in Helsinki. In 1982 Decker set six world records at distances ranging from the mile to 10,000 meters.
At the start of the Olympic final Decker broke into the lead. For the first four laps Decker led the race, but Budd was never more than a half stride behind her. Then just before the five minute mark, Budd passed Decker. Seconds later, Decker tripped on Budd’s heel, fell off to the side, and was out of the race.
Then it was a three woman race among Budd, Romanian Marica Puica and the UK’s Wendy Sly.They ran together in a pack until the last lap when they lost Budd, who fell back and wound up in seventh place. Puica won the Gold Medal. She had a comfortable lead at the finish, ahead of Silver Medalist Sly.