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Women runners in the News - 1997
by Don Allison

The Chinese Women
They’re baaack. In 1993, the women from China shocked the world, running times at distances from 1,500 to 10,000 meters that no other females had ever approached. Concerns were raised immediately about the legitimacy of the marks. These concerns were only exacerbated by Chinese national coach, Ma Junren. The eccentric coach attributed the success of his runners to inordinately hard training at altitude to wild nutritional practices.

The furor died down when the times of Chinese women returned to normal, but in late October at the national track championships, the record-setting faucet began to flow once again. Liang Bo recorded an incredible 14:28 for 5,000 meters, beyond the range of even the most hardened international competitors.. Is it real? We may find out in Sydney or maybe never at all.

Susanthika Jayasinghe
She is Sri Lanka’s first ever world class track athlete, but it is her antics off the track that have made news outside of her small country. After coming out of nowhere to win the 200-meter silver medal at the World championships in Athens, it came to light that Jayasinghe was an Army deserter. After that controversy died down, charges of sexual harassment from a variety of coaches arose. Her plight was even discussed in the Sri Lankan parliament. Seems Jayasinghe’s life was dominated by everything but running after her performance in Athens. A flash in the pan or a budding tack star? Time will tell.

Marion Jones
This former North Carolina University basketball star made a seamless transition back to running, as she moved right to the top of women’s sprinting in 1997, culminating with three gold medals at the World Championships, including one in the 100 meters. She also clocked the world’s fastest 100 meters, 10.79 Lean and lithe like Carl Lewis, Jones looks to be the future of women’s sprinting, a new American star in track in field heading into the new century. That’s a tall order, but one that Marion Jones appears capable of fulfilling.

Mary Slaney
Where to start? Mary Slaney was perhaps the most high-profile track athlete during 1997. As the year began, Slaney staged a comeback for the ages, winning mile and 1,500 meter indoor races all over, including the Millrose Games and the USA indoor championships, then finishing second by an eyelash in the indoor worlds. Track fans in the USA reveled in her success.

Everything changed in May, when USATF suspended Slaney, citing a failed test at the 1996 Olympic Trials, in which her Epitestosterone to Testosterone level was over the allowed limit of six to one. Scientific analysis and public accusations began to fly at once. Slaney was steadfast in her declarations of innocence, but USATF was not to be swayed, initiating the suspension and preventing her from competing at the national championships and thus the World Championships later in the summer. It all came to a quiet conclusion in October, when Slaney was exonerated by USATF and IAAF. The entire case highlighted the tenuous and vague nature of drug testing at high-level athletic competition. That it likely cost Slaney her reputation was an unfortunate and price to pay in order to bring this into the public eye.