It’s been almost 30 years since U.S. track star Mary Decker’s fateful collision with Zola Budd — a South African running for Great Britain — during the 3,000 meter run at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. The next Nine for IX film, Runner, looks at Decker’s legendary running career, including how that one race changed her life forever.
The film, directed by Shola Lynch (see video below), debuts tonight (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). Decker, a 2003 inductee into the National Track and Field Hall Of Fame, answered some questions for Front Row.
What were you thinking as you watched Runner, which shows your fall after the collision several times?
Yes, when I watched this film it is the first time I saw the footage of the entire race. Of course, for quite a while after the Olympics I would see clips of just the fall. Thoughts that went through my mind were: “This is very difficult for me to watch, my heart rate felt out of control” and just that “it put something that was so difficult at the time and that took a long time deal with emotionally back in my present.”
At least for the last 20 years, it has felt like a different lifetime. Runner has reminded me of course of the disappointment of the ‘84 Olympics, but also has reminded me all of the positive experiences that make my athletic career. Something I never really allowed myself to think was that I was really good. I always thought I could do better, be a better runner.
What do you hope the ESPN audience takes from your story?
I hope the ESPN audience gains insight into a running career that — in spite of the outcome of ‘84 — was a successful and worthwhile part of women’s middle distance running in America and beyond. This film made me appreciate how much I did accomplish and how young I was when I started my running career.
The film’s director, Shola Lynch, was a track star and was once called “the next Mary Decker.” Did the fact that Shola had a history in track have anything to do with you agreeing to be a part of the film?
It is actually the very reason! Because Shola has a history in track and field, and was quite good, it made the decision to take part in this project a much easier decision.
With Runner being part of ESPN’s landmark Nine for IX film series, how would you say Title IX influenced your running career?
Title IX had a huge influence on my career, without it I would not have gone to college. More than that, it gave far more women a chance to excel at running which helped build stronger competitors. That helped myself and so many others build a stronger more competitive sport, which makes us all better at what we do.