ALBERTVILLE, France -- To hear Mary Docter tell it, the supermarket tabloids have struck again.
Here she was competing in her fourth Winter Olympics, two days shy of her 31st birthday, and the only thing on her mind was a story she just read in The Star. About her. About her struggle to recover from alcohol and drug addiction. "I wasn't concentrating on how I was going to skate," she said. "I was concentrating on how I was going to answer all the questions."
The first question, actually, was how she felt about finishing 15th in the women's 3,000 meters speed skating yesterday. World record-holder Gunda Niemann brought the old East German strength to the event, blowing away the field of 26 to win the gold medal for a unified Germany in 4:19.90. Compatriot Heike Warnicke, also a former Eastie, was second in 4:22.88, and Austria's Emese Hunyady third in 4:24.64.
Docter wasn't expected to contend for a medal, anyway; her best Olympic finishes in three previous Games were a pair of sixth-places in the 3,000, in 1980 and '84. But she had a favorable draw yesterday, skating after a warm afternoon sun disappeared from the outdoor skating oval. And she was paired with a good skater to push her, Russian Liudmila Prokacheva of the new Equipe Unifiee, the Unified Team of some former Soviet republics.
So, disappointed to be 15th? "I expected to at least be in the top 10. And I expected to break 4:30," Docter said. Instead, she slogged through in 4:34.51. "I'm really sad, and I'm really scared. Scared because I've been mutilated by a lot of articles."
In December, after earning what is assumed to be her last trip to the Olympics by winning both the Olympic Trials 3,000 and 5,000 in Milwaukee, Docter poured out her story of substance abuse to a handful of reporters. She said then that she had been hooked on alcohol and drugs, that she had used cocaine, that "as soon as I got to Calgary" for the 1988 Olympics, "I hit the town." She befriended a man there and said they spent "three nights stoned" on marijuana.
But the details got twisted, Docter said last night. And a regret set in that she ever had gone public with her story. Facing a small group of journalists, standing in the dark outside the skating oval after a lengthy warm-down jog following her race, Docter spoke quickly and angrily. She said that ever since CBS interviewed her last month about her addiction, she has trained poorly. "How many people here," she wanted to know, "can't even lose 5 pounds, much less get rid of an addiction that is a disease?
"I'm a very strong person. It just isn't right. You should be explaining what I've come through; but, no, it's always garbage.
"I've gotten lots of letters from people with addictions, people encouraging me. When I read them, I cry my brains out. I feel disappointed I didn't skate well here, but on the other hand, I'm sober."
A week from today, she will skate the 5,000, probably her last Olympic race. "I don't expect anything," she said.