The Olympic Budd-Decker collision happened 34 years ago today

The running of the women’s 3,000 meter Olympic race on August 11, 1984 in Los Angeles was always going to be historic athletic moment. Young American prodigy, Mary Decker was seeking to finally medal after setting world records and she faced off against a controversial Olympian, the South African runner Zola Budd, who faced abuse from the stands and criticism from other runners for having her immigrating to the UK, from her then-banned-from-competition home country, rushed through so she could compete in the games.

That race had a built-in Olympic narrative but what happened near the end of the race catapaulted the story into a near unforgettable moment, one that looms over the careers of its two star racers. As detailed in Olympic Collision: The Story of Mary Decker and Zola Budd (Nebraska, 2016) by Kyle Keiderling, with three laps to go, a collision between the two racers left Decker stumbling off the side of the track, writhing and screaming in pain as Budd fell to the back of the pack, ultimately finishing in seventh place to a chorus of boos and jeers. It’s an immortalized moment, remembered in Olympic histories and countless athletic retrospectives.

Olympic Collision covers the circumstances that led to Budd and Decker facing off in the race, tracing the path that led both to excel in track as well as following the fallout of the race and the impact it had on both athletes as well as the Olympics in the years since the incident.

 

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