SHE'S 38 but the inferno still burns within Mary Decker Slaney and it's gorgeous to watch the glow.
Slaney is far from ready
to give up running
She is America's greatest female middle distance runner of all time. Having set 17 world records and more than 30 U.S. marks in a career that spans three decades, Slaney has earned immortality in our nation's sports culture.
Now, after more than 20 operations on her legs and feet and a newly diagnosed case of exercise-induced asthma, she could retire proudly.
But on Saturday afternoon when I watched the Waikiki Mile, I learned that Slaney is far from ready to surrender.
There was no question that 27-year-old Irish track superstar Sonia O'Sullivan was the overwhelming favorite in that race. She is the undisputed world-beater at this time in track history.
Only one runner in the star-studded elite field had the audacity to challenge O'Sullivan in the second 800 meters, and that was Slaney.
In defiant pursuit of the world's best all-around female track athlete of 1995, Slaney, the aging superstar of yesteryear, disposed of women who'd beaten her at last summer's Olympic 1,500-meter trials. She also dusted off a 1996 bronze medalist from Austria.
SLANEY is only starting to come down on the toes of her left foot after surgeries to remove part of her heel bone and 25 percent of her achilles tendon. So this was not easy for her.
But the thin, powerful legs that were already setting world records the year that Richard Nixon resigned from office churned furiously alongside O'Sullivan.
I admit to choking back emotion when I saw this lady from a bygone era of American track emerge from the much younger and supposedly faster chase field on Kalakaua.
This one-time child prodigy of sport who entered our lives when "All In The Family" topped the Nielsens and Charles Lindbergh was still alive, had no fear and still knew no limits.
I could see why fans at Olympic Stadium rose from their seats last summer to cheer her incredible rally from fifth to second place in the 5,000 meter trials - a performance that secured her a berth on a U.S. Olympic team for the first time since 1988.
Slaney responded tough to two surges by O'Sullivan on Saturday. But the taller and younger Irish woman exploded into fifth gear in the last quarter mile to put the race away.
"I should have been more aggressive," said a frowning Slaney after finishing second behind O'Sullivan in 4:28.53. Both women had shattered the course record.
"I'd still like to beat her," said the unsinkable Slaney.
IN an era when American distance runners often get beaten up badly by foreign competition on the track and roads, Slaney makes it clear she's one American who's not going to back down.
Hey, she's Mary Decker Slaney, for crying out loud.
Remember 1974? During a relay in the former Soviet Union, a Soviet runner viciously ran her tiny, then- 15-year-old body into the infield on the anchor leg handoff.
She rushed back onto the track and whacked the Soviet runner across the back with the baton. "It didn't seem to faze her and she kept running, so I threw it at her," recalls Slaney.
That fire is still burning - not out of control as it once did - but it's still burning.
"I firmly believe that, health permitting, I can run as well as I used to in all my events but the 800," said Slaney.
You've got to love her.