Stevens plans to sparkle in women's 400 Former Morgan star bids to make up for lost time

Olympics

June 19, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- There was the pulled hamstring four weeks before the 1993 nationals. There was the cracked jaw that twice required surgery in 1994. Those injuries might explain why Rochelle Stevens hasn't backed up the performance she gave at the 1992 U.S. Olympic trials that led to a silver medal as a member of the 4 x 400 relay team in Barcelona.

They also might explain why the former Morgan State star has sort of sneaked up on everybody here at this year's track and field trials. But they don't explain why Stevens has done so well in reaching tonight's 400-meter final, an event she won four years ago in New Orleans. Or does it?

"It's always an advantage to know your competition better than they know you," Stevens said after the semifinals Monday night, when she finished third in her heat and fourth among the eight to qualify with a time of 50.65 seconds. "I know everyone's strategy from studying tape, but I don't know if they know mine."

With her nails painted red, white and blue -- not to mention those silver sparkles for stars -- Stevens is ready to make up for lost time. It is not only the time she spent rehabilitating from injuries, but the time she lost the lead to a Soviet runner in the final 15 meters of the Olympic relay final.

The jaw injury was the most serious of her physical problems. Trying to carry in groceries during an ice storm in her hometown of Memphis, Tenn., Stevens slipped and cracked her jaw. "I was trying to save some apple juice," she said. "It was wired shut for six weeks and then they had to go in and take the wires out. That took a lot out of me. You can't run with your mouth shut."

Just as bad was the fact that Stevens, whose mouth often goes as fast as her feet, couldn't talk.

"I learned how to communicate by humming," she said.

Her best time that year -- 52.39 -- was among her worst in eight years. Her time in the semifinals here was among her best since winning both the Olympic trials and the TAC championships four years ago in 50.06 seconds. Given a better lane, she might produce an even better time tonight. But Stevens, 29, isn't expecting any favors.

"You've got to prove to people you belong," said Stevens.

With the help of her mother and longtime coach, Bea Davis, a former state high school track champion, Stevens wants a chance at redemption next month in Atlanta. "This time," she said. "I want to be in front all the way."

Mouth open.

Nails sparkling.

Pub Date: 6/19/96

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