Brown found fame in '64 Games Track runs in family of Frederick's pride

July 16, 1992|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Staff Writer

FREDERICK -- From the bleachers, Debbie Thompson Brown watched intently as the runners circled the Frederick High School track. One was her daughter, Nicole, bound for Ohio State on a track scholarship this fall.

"Nicole has had to work at it," Brown said. Wistfully, she added, "I was a natural."

Voluble Jack Griffin is more than willing to deliver 5,000 words on that subject. The school's track coach in the 1960s, Griffin once was told by a female gym teacher about a seventh-grader who ran 50 yards in 6.5 seconds.

It was Debbie Thompson.

Later, at New York's Madison Square Garden, a 15-year-old girl broke Olympian Wilma Rudolph's world indoor 60-yard -- record.

It was Debbie Thompson.

"Nicole's not as fast as her mother," Griffin said. "She does the 200 in 25-plus seconds. Debbie did a 23-plus. Maybe still could."

Brown, 45, smiled when Griffin's words were relayed to her. A mother of two girls and a grandmother of one, Brown is one of four Frederick County athletes in the Maryland State Hall of Fame.

In 1964 at Tokyo, all of 17, she ran a 24.9 in the opening round of the 200-meter -- and failed to reach the semifinals. As Griffin reminds, she had run a 23-plus.

In the U.S. Olympic trials, she was seeded in the top three in the 100 but finished fifth. Returning in the 200, she was second behind Edith McGuire who went on to win gold in Tokyo.

"You have to remember that Debbie was the youngest on the U.S. team," said Griffin, Frederick Track Club coach from 1957 to 1984, an assistant Olympic coach in 1964, 1976 and 1984 and now an assistant director of recreation for the city of Frederick.

"In Tokyo, she walked through that tunnel into the arena before 70,000 people and, well, that affects you."

Awed? Intimidated? Brown scoffs at that notion. Distracted? Maybe.

"It was raining so hard we couldn't see the starting blocks and I just lost my concentration," Brown said. "I was thinking about the rain rather than the run. I allowed myself to think, 'Why does it have to rain?' Instead of preparing for the race, I wasted my mental energy on the rain."

When the U.S. team toured Japan after the Olympics, she encountered the 200 -- runner-up in a leg of an 800 relay in an exhibition meet. They started shoulder to shoulder, and Debbie was pulling away when she turned over the baton.

"That sent my confidence to another level," Brown said. "I knew then if I had been focused in the Olympics, I probably would have been in the top six."

When she finished Frederick High, she could have gone to Tennessee State on a track scholarship. Instead, she married Charlie Brown and started a family.

She worked for State Farm Insurance for 15 years, coached at Frederick High for a while and then, five years ago, formed the Frederick Striders. She coaches the group of 76 youngsters, ages 8 to 18, on a volunteer basis.

"The community raised money to send me to qualifying meets out of town," Brown said. "I wanted to give something back, to say thanks for what was done for me when I competed."

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