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Mary Slaney: a vintage performance

P ALIGN="JUSTIFY">MONACOMonte Carlo38 yearold Mary Slaney was the outstanding performer of the US Indoor Championships in Atlanta this weekend after winning the 1500m in 4:03.08 - the fastest time in the world for seven years.

Slaney first captured world headlines as a 14 year-old when she beat Olympic 800m champion Nijole Sabaite at a USA vs. USSR meeting back in 1973. Attractive and aggressive with her front running tactics, Slaney blossomed into one of the legends of women’s distance running. She set numerous world records at 1500m (indoors), 1 mile, 5000m and 10,000m and won a memorable 3000m/1500m double at the inaugural IAAF World Championships in 1983. Her stunning victories, achieved against the mighty Eastern Europeans who dominated women’s distance running at that time, became part of athletic folklore.

But despite her fabulous talent Slaney never achieved Olympic success. In 1984, she was favourite for the 3000m in front of her home crowd but literally crashed out of contention after tangling with Zola Budd and falling to the ground. She returned to set a world record for the mile in 1985 but since then her career has been a long saga of illness and serious injury interspersed with surprise comebacks such as making the US Olympic team in 1996 and now becoming a favourite for 1500m gold in Paris.

"I feel like my old self again" said Slaney after her victory in Atlanta: "I can go out and be aggressive and not run out of steam. Since I began treatment for my asthma there has been a big change. I feel a lot more confident."

Slaney is not going to Paris just for the trip - in fact, as the mother of a 10 year-old she finds the travel a nuisance - but to win gold and perhaps break the world record of 4:00.27 set by Doina Melinte. "At the moment I feel that I could run under 4 minutes," said Slaney: "there is a good chance that the world record is in jeopardy."

Now firmly established as favourite, Slaney stands to gain $50,000 for a win and another $50,000 should she regain the world indoor record she owned between 1980 and 1990.

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