Probably no one was more disappointed at the US boycott of the Moscow Olympics than sprinter Evelyn Ashford. Evelyn is about the nearest thing to liquid motion that has ever been invented.
Already the 1979 World Cup and Pan American Games champion at 100 and 200 meters, Ashford looked upon her Olympic training as important enough to become a UCLA dropout for one year. She felt she needed that much extra practice time to work on her stamina and concentration.
When the boycott came, Evelyn reacted with frustration and mybe even a little self-pity. Hoping to work off some of that disappointment at last year's UCLA-Pepsi May meet in Los Angeles, she got wiped out by a leg injury that would remove her from competition for several months.
But Ashford is back now, possibly better than ever, and will test the leg for the first time in Friday's Sunkist Meet (Jan. 30) at the L.A. Sports Arena.
Most of her competition in that meet is expected to come from Ludmila Kondratyeva, the Olympic 100-meter champion from the Soviet Union, and Alice Brown of Cal State Northridge. Brown was the 100-meter titlist at the national AIAW championships and the 1980 US Olympic trials.
"Last year I felt I was ready for the Olympics -- I mean really ready," Ashford told reporters recently at a track luncheon here. "But then came the boycott, and after that the injury, and eventually I just took off to visit my mother, because I knew she'd get my spirits up.
"Maybe if I hadn't been careless and had warmed up longer for the UCLA meet, I wouldn't have gotten hurt," she continued. "But I wish people would stop asking me about my leg because my leg is fine. The more you run the more you learn, and I've already known for a long time what winning is all about."
Getting Evelyn to talk during a break in competition, however, is almost impossible. Most people think she would rather run carrying an anvil than submit to an interview. She seems uncomfortable around reporters who ask probing questions, and had often ended interviews before they began by saying that she can't talk and run at the same time.
The one place Ashford can't hide, of course, is out on the track. In fact, probably the best way to appreciate her flowing style is to catch her in slow motion on instant replay, particularly when striding out of a turn.
Nicely proportioned at 5ft. 5in. and a trim 115 pounds, she is a picture runner whose feet barely seem to touch the ground and whose center of gravity always seems to have a perfect relationship with her stride.
"I think the key to Evelyn Ashford is that she has an unusually high amount of muscle content in her body," explained John Turek, women's track coach at Cal Poly University in Pomona, Calif. "Basically this gives her a tremendous amount of leg strength and stamina.
"None of this would mean that much if she wasn't also a very dedicated individual with an obvious inner toughness that can't be taught," Turek continued. "While athletes in some other sports might be able to cheat in practice and still do well, track isn't one of them, mostly because any goof- off is going to show up on the stopwatch. But I understand that Evelyn, even in practice, never gives anything but an all- out effort."
Although Ashford's highly sophisticated training program is the combined effort of UCLA track coach Pat Connolly and herself, Evelyn also lifts weights.Reportedly at one point in her career she regularly tried to run at least one mile a week in less than six minutes on the theory that this would increase her stamina.
Ashford's possible 100- and 200-meter times in the future, of course, are merely speculation. But Turek, like most experts who have followed her career, feels that she can only get better.Translated, that means more records for Ashford and, of course, more of those nagging requests for interviews.