Friendship breaks down barriers in women's long jump, 10,000

IDEAL ALLIES

August 08, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

BARCELONA, Spain -- These were snapshots from a night of glory.

One moment, there was Jackie Joyner-Kersee of the United States, ending a long jump reign with a bronze medal, leaping from a pit of sand to embrace her fiercest rival and the new gold medalist, Germany's Heike Drechsler.

"I was happy for her," Joyner-Kersee said. "I was glad to see her finally win that gold."

And then, another moment, generations in the making.

Derartu Tulu of Ethiopia, the first black African woman to win a running gold medal, locking hands on a victory lap with Elana Meyer, an elfin white woman from the heart of South Africa.

Together, they had run the women's 10,000 meters, Tulu winning, Meyer second, and American Lynn Jennings, a distant third. And now, they were sprinting around the track, carrying their flags, carrying the hopes of a continent.

"I think it was very special," Meyer said. "We did it for Africa and African women."

Last night, the 1992 Summer Olympics were transformed by these extraordinary women into something more than a running and jumping event.

This was about old rivals, new friends, and everlasting ideals.

Drechsler, the last remaining cog in the old East German sports machine, ended a seven-year chase and finally surpassed Joyner-Kersee towin the long jump gold with a leap of 23 feet, 5 1/4 inches.

Inessa Kravets of the Unified Team was second at 23-4 1/2 .

Joyner-Kersee was third at 23-2 1/2 , winning her fifth medal in three Olympics.

And in the women's 10,000, Tulu ran behind Meyer for 3,000 meters, passed her heading into the bell lap, and won in 31 minutes, 6.2 seconds. Meyer, who only began running internationally in the spring, who had never raced with anyone capable of matching her wondrous stride, was second in 31:11.75. And Jennings, a world cross country champion who built herself into a track racer, was third in 31.19.89.

It was the stuff of Olympic ideals.

You had Kravets and Joyner-Kersee putting out their best marks on their first jumps, and Drechsler giving chase, finally passing her rivals on her fourth jump for the gold.

But it was the final scene that will be remembered. Joyner-Kersee taking a last jump, falling short of the mark, and heading straight for Drechsler, offering a smile and a hug.

"I'm very happy for Heike," Joyner-Kersee said. "She has been doing this as long as I have. I have been fortunate to come out on top, but this was her day."

Drechsler celebrated, wiping her tears on the flag of united Germany. And then, she stepped to the top of the victory podium, received her gold, and stood at attention while the German anthem was played.

Later, she was asked her emotions as the anthem of her new country, united Germany, was played.

"I had to go through a lot in the last two years," Drechsler said. "It's great to hear that anthem."

While most of the old stars of the East German machine have either retired, been discredited, or have not succeeded in a new, drug-free environment, Drechsler has soared.

Yet this past week, former East German sprinter Katrin Krabbe was revealed to have tested positive for steroids.

"We're all fighting and competing for good results," Drechsler said. "The Krabbe case is over. If they [East German athletes] haven't learned anything from the matter, they have to be punished. For me, this matter is closed."

As one chapter ended, another one began in the women's 10,000.

It was a terrific race. There was Meyer, raised on a farm in Albertinia, running with a smile, gulping cups of water and drenching her head with a sponge. And there was Tulu, wearing an undershirt under her singlet, running with magnificent control, finally using a last burst on the last lap to win her gold.

And then, the night became extraordinary, with the victory lap that became a celebration. Black and white. Rich and poor. Africans united.

"I am very happy at this moment," Tulu said.

And so, too, was Meyer, South Africa's first track medalist since its 32-year Olympic ban was lifted.

"It's amazing," Meyer said. "I know now, it's for the real South Africa, the new South Africa. And all of South Africa is behind me."

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