Top female miler awaits stiff foreign challenge

Mary Decker Tabb has been tearing up the American indoor track circuit this winter. Just last week she bettered the women's world mile record with a time of 4:20.5 in San Diego, and before that she toppled the indoor mile and 3,000 -meter marks several times.

She's unquestionably the best female, middle-distance runner in this country. Her huge victory margins prove that. But is she capable of winning an Olympic gold medal? ''She might win a medal, but certainly not a gold, at least not at this point,'' says Garry Hill of Track and Field News.

Hill bases his opinion on Mary's efforts in the 1,500 meters, the Olympic distance closest to the mile. Here, it's easier to gauge her performance against really tough competition, the kind primarily supplied by communist-bloc runners. The Soviet Union's Tatyana Kazankina, winner of the Olympic 1,500 in both 1976 and 1980, owns the current women's world record of 3:52.47. Decker Tabb's best time (3:59.43) is nearly seven seconds slower.

Given the chance to compete against top foreign runners, Mary would probably close the gap. The opportunity to do so could occur in July, when the United States squares off against the Russians and East Germans in separate meets.

In the meantime, Mary's fans (including her marathon-running husband, Ron Tabb) will cheer future ''Double Decker'' attempts, wherein she goes after personal bests in the mile and 1,500 simultaneously.Such ''doubles'' are hard to achieve, because the mile is almost 120 yards longer, requiring that one prolonged finishing kick do double duty.

Touchy departures in Louisiana Under both Paul Dietzel and Charlie McClendon, Louisiana State football flourished. Alhough ''giants'' in LSU gridiron lore, each has seen his school ties severed. McClendon was put out to pasture three years ago, when pressure built to find a younger, ambitious head coach. Dietzel , architect of the nation's consensus No. 1 team in 1958, was ousted several weeks ago as the school's athletic director.

During McClendon's 18 years at LSU, he had only one losing season, and his last three teams went to bowl games. But 7-4 campaigns and berths in the Sun, Liberty, and Tangerine bowls apparently don't cut it in Baton Rouge. Avid Bengal rooters expect more - say an occasional Southeastern Conference championship, a victory over Alabama, and a major bowl - things LSU hasn't enjoyed in quite some time.

Even if Dietzel wasn't the ''heavy'' in McClendon's forced resignation, he had a hand in hiring Jerry Stovall, his successor. Those who figured that McClendon got a bum deal watched with interest last season as the once strong football program collapsed. The 3-6-1 record was the worst in many years.

Dietzel was a controversial choice as athletic director in 1978. Many LSU backers were still upset that he left the school to coach Army almost two decades earlier. Ultimately, however, his dismissal was prompted by a university inquiry into his financial management policies, which reportedly left the athletic department with a million-dollar deficit. Some felt his decision to add more non-revenue producing sports for women contributed to his departure. Name that golf tournament With the possible exception of their tour championship , women pro golfers don't have a tournament that jumps off the calendar, one that stands out as a major annual event. If anything comes close, it's probably Dinah Shore's rich shootout in Palm Springs, Calif., each April.

For quite a while, however, the tournament's unwieldy title - the Colgate Dinah Shore Winners Circle - worked against it. Last year, the name was shortened to the Colgate Dinah Shore, a step in the right direction. But now, after a sponsor change, the event has become the Nabisco Dinah Shore Invitational. That's a mouthful that confuses the issue, disguising the fact that this is still the same tournament.

Wouldn't it be better to simply go with ''the Dinah Shore Classic,'' or some variation that keeps the sponsor's name out of it? The men, for example, have the Bob Hope Desert Classic and Bing Crosby Pro-Am (just the ''Hope'' and ''Crosby'' to fans), and several other celebrity-connected events.

The snag, of course, is that sponsors pay good money and expect exposure. But shouldn't there be a limit when so-called major tournaments are involved? Sponsor names don't belong front and center on these occasions.

The ''majors'' should serve the game first, not corporate backers, who may elect to drop their sponsorship. Continuity helps build tradition, yet little can exist when tournaments change names. A very special basketball win Bobby Knight's reaction was to call it ''the most significant thing to happen to college basketball since they took the bottom out of the peach basket.''

What Knight was talking about was Mississippi State's 56-51 upset of powerful Kentucky earlier this season. The Wildcats, ranked 9th by the UPI, just atoned for that defeat by dropping MSU in a return engagement. But Knight still couldn't help being impressed by the first result. Indiana's coach knows how hard it is to beat Kentucky. His Hoosiers have turned the trick only once in the past six seasons. Mississippi State did it with a team that had lost 17 straight games in the Southeastern Conference

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