In her first full season running 1500 meters, Marla Runyon is already a gold medalist. She took the prize at last week’s Pan Am Games in Winnipeg and is a solid bet to make the U.S. Olympic team in 2000.
She is also legally blind. She began experiencing macular degeneration at age nine and gave up soccer at 14 when she could no longer see the ball. Now, she should become the first Paralympics competitor (four golds in ’92 and one in ’96 in visually impaired categories) to make an Olympic track squad. “If someone didn’t say she was blind, I would have no idea,” says her 1500-meter rival Kathy Fleming. More to the point is 1996 Olympian Vicki Huber, who insists that her former training partner is “the toughest runner I’ve ever seen.”
Runyon, who races August 25 at the World Championships in Seville, Spain, admits, “I can lose contact with the leader if I let them get too far ahead,” but that happens less and less often. Without advance knowledge, she cannot distinguish whom she is racing against. “I could have the world record holder by my side, and I couldn’t tell who she is,” observes Runyon. But for her, that has its advantages “because you don’t concede the race to some one based on her reputation.”
Something strange is happening to the U.S. men’s soccer team—they’re starting to look like a good squad. Even though they fell 1-0 to Mexico on Sunday in the semifinal of the ultra-obscure Confederations Cup, the U.S. held out against the home side until sudden death OT.
Big deal, you might say, the U.S. and Mexico have been contesting close matches for years now. But, while the media focused its myopic soccer coverage on the Women’s World Cup, getting all caught up in Brandi’s bra in the process, the U.S. men have been slowly rebuilding from their debacle at the ’98 World Cup and establishing themselves as a solid international soccer power. Since last July, the Amerks have defeated Argentina, Chile, and Germany, lost an incredibly close match to Brazil, and then, on Friday, defeated Germany again by an impressive two goals to nil.
So what’s the reason for this rebirth? Part must be attributed to the lifting of the (Steve) Sampson curse. With the old coach gone, and Bruce Arena installed, it seems the many divisions that ruined the World Cup squad have been patched over. New talent and old experience are blending and being shored up by the miracle play of keeper Kasey Keller, now considered one of the best in the world.
No better example of Arena’s healing touch can be seen than the recall of veteran star John Harkes, who was unceremoniously dumped from the World Cup team by Sampson. Harkes (who recently coauthored an unapologetically honest book about his career, Captain for Life, with Voice contributor Denise Kiernan) returned strong for Confed Cup games against Brazil and New Zealand, but missed the Germany match due to injury. If Arena can fit the talented, yet opiniated Harkes (MLS take note: is the league big enough for Harkes and Lothar Mattaeus?) back into the national framework, then surely anything is possible.
BY THE NUMBERS
Superstition rules baseball like no other sport. As do numbers. So when Roger Clemens merged these two phenomena by shedding his number 12 in favor of his son’s Little League number 22, it was hardly extraordinary (and hardly effective; Rocket is winless in two starts since the switch). To many players, the numbers on the backs of their uniform are nearly as important as those on the back of their bubblegum card.
Hell, some ballplayers are so attached to a certain digit, they live their life by it. Literally. Colorado outfielder Larry Walker (33), for in stance, takes three practice swings before at-bats, sets his alarm to three minutes past the hour, showers from the third nozzle on the shower head, and was wed on November 3 at 3:33 pm. Mets reliever/resident crackpot Turk Wendell (99) inked a one-year deal in ’99 for $1,200,00.99 with the chance to earn three bonuses of $4999. “I want as many 99’s in my contract as possible,” Turk said at the time.
Strange? Of course, but no more so than those who pay through the nose to hold on to certain jersey numbers. When he signed with Toronto in ’97, Clemens himself presented Carlos Delgado with a Rolex worth $15,900 in exchange for the number 21—the figure he wore in Boston. (Clemens, however, didn’t even try to pry 21 from Paul O’Neill when he came to the Bronx.) And Rickey Henderson dished out $25,000 to Blue Jays outfielder Turner Ward in ’93 for the rights to number 24. Somewhat more sane was Philadelphia first baseman John Kruk, who was persuaded to exchange his number 29 with pitcher Mitch Williams for two cases of beer.
POWER FOR PITCHING
Since the Yankees have apparently decided to stick with Andy Pettitte, does that mean they’ve finally realized the real source of the struggling lefty’s woes? Seems to us that may be it isn’t his confidence, or even his delivery, that should be examined. Maybe it’s his personal relationship with God.
Contributors: Peter Gambaccini, Mat thew Yeomans, Joshua D. Gaynor, Joanna Cagan
Sports Editor: Miles D. Seligman