Despite the intense rivalry they shared on the track during the 1990s, two-time Olympic 100m champion Gail Devers said she always admired and respected Jamaica’s Merlene Ottey for her talent and longevity.
The rivals met in a number of major finals that were talked about for years, especially the epic 1993 World Championships 100m finals in Stuttgart, Germany and the Olympic Games in Atlanta, three years later.
Prior to those two years, Devers and Ottey met in the finals of the 100m finals at the Barcelona Olympics in 1992 when Devers won her first Olympic 100 title in 10.80s. Ottey was fifth in 10.88 in one of the closest finals in history. 0.08 seconds separated the first five places.
That race marked the beginning of a tense rivalry between Devers and Ottey that would only intensify over the next four years.
In Stuttgart, Devers got off to a flyer and was ahead midway the race but she was being reeled in by a fast-closing Ottey, who with her final strides appeared to have caught the diminutive American as they crossed the line together.
Unsure of who won, the finalists stood around looking up at the scoreboard for what seemed like an eternity. Officials eventually announced that Devers had been awarded the victory even though both she and the Jamaican icon were given the same time of 10.82.
Jamaican protested the result but the decision upheld, handing the American.
By 1996, the 36-year-old Ottey was at her fifth Olympics, Devers her third, and once again they came face to face in the 100m finals and once again, history repeated itself. Devers got off to a great start only to be reeled in by Ottey and sure enough, they crossed the finish line together.
Both were timed in 10.94 but like in Stuttgart, the American was given the nod. The circumstances created tensions between the two countries and their athletes. However, Devers said those tensions were simply about competition.
“You just get caught up in ‘this is competition and you got coaches who say we’re going to protest this,” Devers told Ato Boldon on his Athletics Live show on Instagram last week.
She said she had no idea why things turned out the way they did, why it always seemed to come down to her and Ottey.
“It keeps coming up that it’s these two every time. I don’t know why it was always us but we were always willing to go to the wire,” she said.
Devers explained that in the early days’ everyone kind of kept to themselves, leaving little to interact with her rivals.
“When we were competing, it was [Irina] Privalova, it was me, it was Gwen Torrence, it was that four that you could not pick who was going to win on that day,” she said.
“And we can’t duck each other, we gotta go, we gotta run, gotta bring you’re A-plus game because they’re bringing their A-game. So with Merlene, I always knew she was a great athlete and I would always tell her ‘You still running, shoot…”
She said that as time passed, they both got the chance to get to know each other and the tensions cooled.
“While you’re competing everybody is in their own camp, you don’t sit there and socialize anyway, but as we got older, going to awards ceremonies or even with social media, we were able to talk to each other,” she said.
“She knows that I have always admired her because I don’t care at what age, if she steps out there now I am concerned. You might want to be worried because if she is in the lane, she is ready to go.”
Source: Leighton Levy