Mary Slaney (née Decker) was a celebrated US middle-distance runner who, at the inaugural IAAF World Championships in Helsinki, Finland in 1983, completed the so-called ‘Double Decker’ by winning gold medals in both the women’s 1,500 metres and 3,000 metres. At various points in her career, Slaney also held world records in the women’s mile, 5,000 metres and 10,000 metres. However, in a career dogged by injury and good old-fashioned bad luck, Slaney never won an Olympic medal of any description.
Originally nicknamed ‘Little Mary Decker’ because of her short, petite stature, Slaney rose to prominence, as a 14-year-old, in 1973. Too young to complete at the US Olympic Trials in 1972, Slaney won on her first attempt in international competition, in the USA-USSR Dual Track Meet Series at the Republic Stadium in Minsk, Belarus in July, 1973, while still a week or two shy of her fifteenth birthday. Indeed, in winning the women’s 800 metres she beat the silver medallist at the Munich Olympics, Nijolė Sabaitė.
A painful muscular condition, known as ‘compartment syndrome’, followed by a series of stress induced fractures, ruled Slaney out of the Montreal Olympics in 1976, while a US boycott, in protest against the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in December, 1979, did likewise at the Moscow Olympics in 1980. When Slaney did finally make it to the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, she started hot favourite for the women’s 3,000 metres final, but failed to finish after colliding with South African born teenager Zola Budd, representing Great Britain. With less than four laps to go, Slaney fell to the track, injuring her hip and leaving unable to continue. Slaney also contested the women’s 1,500 metres and 3,000 metres at the Seoul Olympics in 1988 and the women’s 5,000 metres at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, but never recaptured her previous form.