Torrence tells dirty secrets, and now no one is clean

MIKE LITTWIN

August 07, 1992|By MIKE LITTWIN

BARCELONA, Spain -- Gail Devers stumbled back into our hearts again last night. Her story could be the Olympic story.

First, she recovers from an improbable illness to register a shocking win in the 100 meters. And then, on one of the great nights in American track and field history, just as she's about to win a second gold and confirm her place in Olympic lore, Devers collides with that final hurdle -- and staggers, tumbles, virtually crawls to the finish line. She didn't win, but she finished. She had to finish.

That's a snapshot for you. It's an Olympic moment. It's blood and guts mixed with hearts and flowers. It's Dave Johnson struggling to a bronze despite a stress fracture. It's Mike Powell landing an inch short of the incomparable Carl Lewis on his final jump.

Devers' finish was the story you saw. It wasn't the only one.

Even as she hit the hurdle, there was a different Gail Devers story being suggested, if not exactly told, in the basement of Olympic Stadium.

This was not about the 100 hurdles or Graves' disease. It was about whether Devers uses.

It's about whether Devers is, in the vernacular, dirty.

"Nobody," said her coach, Bob Kersee, "has the right to even ask the question."

And yet, it would be asked because a rival athlete had raised the issue first.

You have to go back to Saturday and the 100 when Gwen Torrence, who finished fourth, would say three women in the race were dirty. Later, although Torrence would never name names, it became clear she was including Devers.

Last night, Torrence won the 200 and faced questions of her own from the world's press. None of them was about her race. Wasn't she just a sore loser? Why wouldn't she name individuals? Hadn't she smeared everyone in the race?

What followed was a remarkable scene, straight out of "Geraldo."

"Drugs are everywhere in the Olympics," Torrence said. "People just don't want to believe it."

But when asked who and where, she declined to comment, saying, "It's over."

But seated next to her at the news conference was silver medalist Juliet Cuthbert, who was also silver medalist in the 100, and obviously quite angry.

"It's not over," she said, addressing Torrence. "When I called my mother, the second question she asked me -- after how hard I worked for getting second place -- my mother asked me was I taking drugs. I went from a high to a low.

"Everyone was looking at me. Everyone came up to me in the village. . . . How would you like it if everyone came up to you and said, 'Gwen, are you on drugs?' "

Cuthbert and Torrence were friends. Torrence had later told Cuthbert that she hadn't meant to suggest she was dirty. But Cuthbert revealed what Torrence wouldn't -- that Torrence had targeted Devers.

The story won't go away. We have a grand and wonderful Olympics, and it won't go away. The truth is we never know for sure what we're seeing is real.

We saw Carl Lewis win his seventh gold medal -- his third in the long jump -- and reaffirm his place as the greatest track and field athlete of all time. We remember Lewis won his fifth gold in Seoul when Ben Johnson, who had won the race, was disqualified for drug use. We saw Johnson run 9.79, and then it never happened.

When Lewis accused Johnson, they said he was a sore loser.

What would you do in Torrence's place? Say you believe the people who are beating you are dirty. Should you stay quiet or should you speak up?

"It's nothing I know," Torrence said of her accusation. "I had suspicions. I don't have any proof."

Earlier, Devers had named Katrin Krabbe, the German who won the 100 at the World Games. And now Krabbe, who has been suspended twice, is said to have failed as many as four drug tests.

In the previous Olympics, Florence Griffith Joyner, Flo Jo, was the show stealer. Bob Kersee had been her coach, too. She had this remarkable muscular definition and more than remarkable times in the 100 and 200. Evelyn Ashford, who finished second to Flo Jo in the 100, said no woman could run that fast. Her choice of words was intentional. And Ashford's fellow Southern California athletes named her track's woman of the year in that same season. That wasn't unintentional, either.

Fair? Unfair?

Sore losers?

I don't know what to think about Torrence and Devers. Kersee said that track's ruling bodies should sanction Torrence unless she could produce evidence of wrongdoing.

"The Olympics are about fair play," Kersee said. "It's in the charter. The Olympics is falling over the last hurdle and crawling, if you have to, to get to the finish line just so you can finish the race.

"And I can't get one person on the Olympic Committee to help us. They all sit up in that red box, and nobody will come down for her."

Has Devers been wronged? We'll probably never know for sure. Passing a drug test doesn't mean you're clean. Although some vTC athletes get caught and there's a random-test system in place, the cheaters are usually a step ahead of the testers. Being accused also doesn't mean you're guilty.

On one hand, you wish Torrence had never said anything. Devers' story is too good to be questioned. But if Torrence believes she was wronged, what should she do? What would you do?

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