Even 4th is silver lining for Devers Engquist takes hurdles, as American falls short in bid for second win

Atlanta Olympics

August 01, 1996|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

ATLANTA -- She went into the U.S. Olympic trials last month with two modest goals: staying healthy and making the team. She went into the 1996 Olympic Games with a similar mind-set: staying healthy and getting a medal.

Then Gail Devers got greedy.

But after becoming only the second woman in Olympic history to win back-to-back gold medals in the 100 meters, Devers found trouble in last night's 100-meter hurdles at Olympic Stadium.

This time, Devers didn't make it to the last hurdle with a comfortable lead, as she did four years ago in Barcelona, Spain, before she failed to clear it and turned imminent victory into agonizing defeat. This time, she didn't crawl across the finish line in fifth.

She barely made it to the first hurdle last night, her reaction out of the blocks the slowest of the eight finalists. Devers never caught up, finishing fourth behind Ludmilla Engquist of Sweden, Brigita Bukovec of Slovenia and Patricia Girard-Leno of France.

"I didn't have a great race, I didn't have a good start," Devers said after finishing in 12.66 seconds, .01 of a second behind the bronze medalist. "I never got my speed. It just wasn't meant to be."

Neither was becoming the first double gold winner in the track and field competition at these Olympics. Running only her second hurdles this year, still coming back from the hamstring injury that was aggravated by a car accident, she found that winning the 100 took more out of her than she expected.

"It's not disappointing," said Devers, 29. "It's just not my time. It's very tough to do both."

Asked to compare last night's race with the final in Barcelona, Devers said: "It doesn't compare. In '92, I got out of the blocks well and I was pressing the race. Tonight, I never got a chance to do it."

Engquist, 32, never gave her the opportunity. She nearly matched Devers' best time in the qualifying heats and beat her handily in a head-to-head matchup in the semifinals. And Devers never mounted much of a challenge.

Bukovec, whose friendship with Engquist dates to when both were competing for the former Soviet Union, was the only one to make it a race. She nearly caught Engquist at the end, finishing .01 of a second behind at 12.59 seconds.

"It was very difficult," said Engquist, "because I didn't compete for 3 1/2 years."

Engquist's road to Olympic gold was paved with more than its share of bumps, at least one she built herself. After testing positive for steroids in 1991, Engquist was banned for four years by the International Track Federation.

After unsuccessfully appealing the suspension, Engquist began training again and hurt her knee in 1995. She had surgery twice, missed four months and chose to skip the last couple of meets of the year to concentrate on the Olympics.

"I was very unhappy," she said. "I would train, but I did not want to train."

With the help of her husband and coach, Johan, Engquist started thinking about making it to Atlanta. But she didn't get her citizenship until May, her visa until June and approval from Russian officials to compete for Sweden until July 5.

"He's a very hard person as a coach, but he's a very nice husband," said Ludmilla Engquist.

While Engquist's victory was expected, Devers' defeat wasn't a total surprise given that the Olympic trials were the first she competed in the hurdles this year. She was happy to have come through last night with her health, even though she didn't get a medal.

Bobby Kersee, who coached Valerie Brisco to double gold in the 1984 Olympics and his wife, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, to double-gold four years ago in Barcelona, was happy about one thing.

"At least she didn't finish with skinned knees," he said.

Pub Date: 8/01/96

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