Stevens' mom finds 6th place golden moment

Ken Rosenthal

August 06, 1992|By Ken Rosenthal

BARCELONA, Spain -- Seven rows from the top of Olympic Stadium, Beatrice Holloway grasped Madeline Manning's hand. Holloway's daughter, Rochelle Stevens, was about to run in the women's 400-meter final. Manning, a U.S. team chaplain and 1968 track and field gold medalist, recited a prayer.

The runners crouched in the blocks, and Beatrice Holloway rubbed her hands on her knees. She wanted so badly to be closer, down by the track, back of the chain fence. She wanted to scream last-minute advice to Rochelle, scream as she always does, scream one more time, "Keep your head down!"

It had been this way for two years, the mom coaching the daughter. Unusual setup, but now Rochelle was America's top female quarter-miler. Obviously, Beatrice knew something. There was Rochelle now, crouching in Lane 1, bracing for the starter's gun.

In less than a minute, it would be over. Beatrice gave up her own track career for this minute, gave it up 25 years ago when Rochelle was born. So much had happened since then. Three other daughters. A divorce from her husband. Rochelle leaving for Morgan State. And a tragic loss that haunts her still.

Katherine, she couldn't stop thinking of Katherine. Her third daughter. Rochelle's favorite sister. What had it been, four years? Yes, Rochelle was leaning forward now, for a race dedicated to her sister, who died of a brain tumor at 18.

Beatrice raised the four girls herself in Memphis, Tenn., sent them all to college. Rochelle, 25, was the oldest, and the only runner. Sharon, 24, graduated from Memphis State, got married and moved to Jacksonville. Norema, 19, is entering her sophomore year at Memphis State.

The two sisters were back in the United States watching live on TripleCast. It was 2:50 p.m. EST, 8:50 p.m. in Barcelona. The Olympic flame punctured the sky on the opposite side of the stadium as another hot day dissolved into dusk. The starter's gun for the women's 400 fired.

"Get out, baby!" Beatrice said, but softly, almost under her breath. She leaned on the rail in front of her, resting her head on her hand. No sense trying to scream above the roar. A lifetime for this moment, and the only thing left to do was watch.

Rochelle was in Lane 1, so she trailed immediately because of the staggered start. She had run the fourth fastest time in the qualifiers, a personal best of 50.06 seconds. Problem was, the three heats had left her exhausted. Just run your best, Beatrice thought. Just run your best.

The runners circled the first turn. The way Beatrice saw it, you could trace this whole thing back to Morgan State. Coming out of high school, Rochelle wanted to compete against the best. Morgan coach Leonard Braxton offered a scholarship, and off she went.

Now she was one of the top eight 400-meter runners in the world, but here on the first straightaway, she was trying desperately to hold on. She'll come, Beatrice thought, she'll come. The last 100 meters had been the weakest part of her race. Now they were her strongest.

Beatrice had seen to that. At first upon returning to Memphis from Baltimore, Rochelle tried to train with her junior high school coach, but he was a newlywed and wanted to devote time to his wife. Rochelle needed another coach. It came down to a simple question, really: Why not mom?

Remember, Beatrice had been a runner herself, a Tigerbelle at Tennessee State. She could think of a dozen ways to help Rochelle improve her times. She took a year-long leave of absence from her job counseling parents of special-education students in Memphis city schools.

Rounding the far turn, Rochelle still was far behind, but heaven help her if she lost control of her arms or threw back her head. Beatrice helped correct those things. Now she was standing, trembling, yelling, "Pull it, baby! Pull it in!"

Her words meant nothing. The leaders thundered down the final straightaway. Her baby could barely lift her legs. Rochelle crossed the wire sixth, in 50.11 seconds. The French world champion, Marie-Jose Perec, won the race in 48.83.

Now it was over. The moment had been so tense, the release was tremendous. Beatrice burst with pride, waving her arms toward the track. Her daughter had just run in an Olympic final. She can still earn a medal in the women's 1,600-meter relay Saturday. And she plans to compete again in Atlanta in 1996.

It was no time for dejection, it was a time for celebration. Beatrice Holloway stood in her blue tank top and orange shorts, grasping all at once what her oldest daughter had just accomplished. "Sixth in the world," she told her friend Madeline. "That's not too bad."

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