For anyone familiar with Mary Decker Slaney's enormous competitive drive, it isn't really surprising that her best mile ever -- a world record, in fact -- would come in a tight race against Maricica Puica and Zola Budd. Her rivals, linked in memory to Slaney through the Olympic melodrama of last summer, basically chased the American star across the finish line in Zurich last week. In holding off her challengers, Mary was clocked at 4:16.71, breaking the old record of 4:17.44 set by Puica two years ago and regaining the world mark which the Romanian runner had taken from her at that time. Significantly, Puica and Budd were both less than a second behind.
The race marked the first time all three runners have met since the Olympics, when Puica's win in the 3,000 was overshadowed by the controversial incident involving Slaney and Budd, the frail South African teen-ager who gained British citizenship in order to compete in Los Angeles. Slaney crashed to the infield after getting entangled with Budd's legs, leaving Romania's Puica to run on to victory as a shaken Budd finished seventh, and Slaney not at all.
The outcome left a lot of unanswered questions about who was really the superior runner. Decker, who married British discus thrower Richard Slaney in January, has used the situation to make her more determined.
The Zurich win kept her '85 unbeaten streak alive. In one victory about a month ago she ran away from Budd in a heralded 3,000-meter race that brought them together for the first time since the Olympics. Puica, whose national federation couldn't come to terms with the race promoter, didn't compete.
But like Slaney, the 35-year-old Romanian veteran arrived in Zurich undefeated in major outdoor competition, which made the race all the more interesting for track buffs, some of whom believe Puica, based on her pre-Olympic form, would have beaten Mary at the longer distance and won the gold medal anyhow.
Somewhat ironically, only Puica was entered in the Olympic mile, where she captured the bronze. Slaney decided to concentrate her efforts in the 3,000.
Slaney, who holds every American women's distance running record from 800 meters to 10,000, set a world record at 2,000 meters, last August in Eugene, Ore., where she lives, but it was broken two days later.
The Soviet Union's Natalya Artyemova actually has a better time than Slaney in the mile (4:15.80). It is not recognized as a record, however, because no drug tests were conducted after the race, which took place in 1984.
The wearing of bathrobes is generally not an issue in college sports. It became one in a modest way, however, when a sports writer pressed for quicker, post-game access to the University of Florida's football locker room. The problem, as Hubert Mizell of the St. Petersburg Times saw it, was that a 20-minute wait outside the Gators' locker room presented a hardship to reporters on tight deadlines. The school wanted writers, specifically female ones, kept out until players could dress. Mizell suggested bathrobes be worn, but Florida officials felt purchasing robes would violate an NCAA rule banning the purchase of clothing for student-athletes. Florida is already serving a three-year probation for numerous violations, and doesn't want to get in further trouble. Mizell queried the NCAA, though, and learned that issuing bathrobes was perfectly legal so long as the players don't retain the clothing for their personal use. Now Mizell hopes ``the Great Bathrobe Ruling'' will lead to a Gator coverup -- one that won't embarrass anyone.
College baseball officials are concerned that there are too many three-hour games. A major culprit, some feel, is the aluminum bat, which leads to more offense, and thus longer games. A committee has been formed to study bats, which are now being made of graphite as well as wood and aluminum. Umpiring might also be a factor in the length of games. Some umpires seemingly have gone to a smaller strike zone than specified. This leads to more walks, scoring, and pitches thrown. Officials have called for closer adherence to the rules, and also have reduced the number of warmup pitches between innings from 8 to 5.