Women's Sprints

Outside magazine, August 1996

Women's Sprints

Here comes Gwen Torrence, America's fastest loose cannon
By Mark Jannot

Gwen Torrence promises to be among the most hyped athletes of the Atlanta Games: a hometown girl who returns to accolades and--a good bet--Olympic gold in the 100- and 200-meter sprints and the 4x100 relay. While Torrence's home-field dominance should be amply showcased, the requisite video vignettes on the sometimes prickly sprinter probably won't include any montages of Torrence basking in the goodwill of her rivals.

"The hundred meters is so explosive, and you're competing against someone right next to you," explains American sprinter Carlette Guidry-White. "There's no room for being friendly." Over the last half-decade, Torrence and her main rival, Jamaica's Merlene Ottey, 36, have made that truism the foundation of their personal war. After the five-runner photo finish in Barcelona's 100-meter finals, in which Gail Devers beat the field by a nose, leaving Torrence fourth, the 31-year-old Atlanta native infamously claimed--without naming names--that three of her competitors were on performance-enhancing drugs. After being edged out by Ottey in the 200 at the 1993 world championships, a petulant Torrence skipped the postrace press conference. Then she slaughtered the field in the 200 at the 1995 worlds but was disqualified for stepping out of her lane. This time Ottey did the spouting off, calling Torrence a cheater. "Gwen says what she thinks," says Glen McMicken of USA Track & Field. "She has no sense of tact. Ottey is the same way, but in a sneakier fashion. She waits for an ambush situation."

If anybody's going to get ambushed on the track in Atlanta, though, it's Ottey. "Right now there's no one that can touch Torrence," McMicken says. Some see Devers as Torrence's main competition, but the two-time gold medalist has torn her right hamstring four times since Barcelona and ran horribly at the Atlanta Grand Prix in May. Torrence, in contrast, flew to victory in 10.85 seconds, fastest in the world this year. If Devers can't improve, look for Guidry-White, Ottey, and Russia's Irina Privalova to compete for the silver and bronze in both the 100 and 200.

Before the Grand Prix, Devers was slotted as the favorite in the 100-meter hurdles, redeeming the fall she took in '92 when she clipped the last hurdle while leading the Olympic final. But if the tune-up race was any indication, look for Dionne Rose and Michelle Freeman of Jamaica and American Cheryl Dickey to challenge in a slow race.

In the 400 meters, Marie-Jose Perec of France is considered a lock, with Australia's Cathy Freeman taking silver and the Bahamas' Pauline Davis battling Fatima Yusuf of Nigeria for the bronze. But Americans should dominate the 400-meter hurdles, where Kim Batten and Tonja Buford-Bailey both broke the world record in last year's world championships, with Batten edging Buford-Bailey by a hundredth of a second.

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