(Reuters) – On a warm July 1983 day in the Colorado mountains, a slender American woman literally reached the peak of female sprinting when she smashed the women’s 100 metres world record that German athletes had owned for a decade.
FILE PHOTO: Born on April 15, 1957: Evelyn Ashford, American Athlete (L to R) USA’s Evelyn Ashford, Sheila Echols and Alice Brown, three of the USA’s 4×100 metres relay team, watch a video replay of the race finish after their gold medal win October 1, 1988 in Seoul. The fourth team member, not pictured, is Florence Griffith Joyner. REUTERS/Rick Wilking/File Photo
Evelyn Ashford had beaten Marlies Gohr (100m) and Marita Koch (200m) in the 1979 World Cup of Athletics and now she had Gohr’s 100 metres world record.
“I guess you could say I want to have it all,’ Ashford said in a 1983 interview with The New York Times before her record Colorado run of 10.79 seconds.
In as many ways, she did have it all in a career loaded with ups and downs.
The Louisiana-born, California-raised sprinter grabbed Olympic gold in the women’s 100 metres and 4×100 metres relay at the 1984 Los Angeles Games, becoming the first woman to run under 11 seconds in an Olympics, and added more gold in the 4×100 relay at the 1988 and 1992 Olympics.
There probably could have been more except for the United States’ boycott of the 1980 Moscow Olympics.
Twice, including the Colorado victory, she toppled the 100 metres world record.
“When I’m running fast, I feel like I’m weightless,” Ashford told Fortune magazine in 1991. “It’s like I’m flying, like I’m not even touching the ground.”
The Colorado triumph was extraordinary because 15 minutes after Ashford’s record run, compatriot Calvin Smith smashed the men’s 100 metres world record. Never before had both 100 metres records tumbled on the same day
“She always loved to sew and read, but running was her favorite because she was so good,” her mother Vietta once said.
Ashford’s hero was one of America’s greatest sprinters, the 1960 triple Olympic gold medallist Wilma Randolph.
“I was 12 when I first heard about Wilma Rudolph, and since I knew I could run I wanted to be like her,” Ashford recalled in an interview.
Her quickness prompted the American football coach at her California high school to ask her to challenge his fastest player. Race won, Ashford became the only female member of the school’s track team.
Speed and longevity were her trademarks.
From finishing fifth in the 100 metres at the 1976 Montreal Olympic to winning gold in the 4×100 metres relay at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics at age 35, Ashford represented her country well and the honour of being the U.S. flag bearer was bestowed on her for the opening ceremony of the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
The gold medallist retired in 1992 but continued to do Olympic advisory work while raising her daughter Rain, who was born in 1985.
“This is as close as I need to be to track and field. I am very satisfied with where I left the sport, what I accomplished in the sport,” she told Don Mosley of the Sacramento Bee in April 2000.
Once in the world spotlight, she has slipped into quieter times declining a request last week to talk about her golden days.
Reporting by Gene Cherry in Salvo, North Carolina