CUBuffs.com profiles 2012 CU Athletic Hall of Fame inductee Mary Decker Slaney, All-American Cross Country/Track athlete, world champion, U.S. Olympian. Twelve CU greats were enshrined this past Thursday, click here for a recap of the event.
In the timeline of an entire athletic career, Mary Decker Slaney’s time in Boulder was brief, just two seasons, but her impact on the University of Colorado cross country/track & field program was significant.
With national championships, world records and various hall of fames already on her resume, Decker Slaney made one more special addition this last Thursday as she entered the CU Athletic Hall of Fame.
Previously she had been inducted to the USA Track & Field and the National Distance Running Halls of Fame in 2003. Decker Slaney has lived in Eugene, Ore., since 1979 when she left CU to begin her professional career but was quick to point out at the induction ceremony... “I’m not a Duck,” she said. “In my heart, I was always a Buff and it was heart wrenching to find out that I was a member of this great class.”
|Mary Decker Slaney set world records in 10 different events during her career.
A cross country legend, she won her first competition at age 11, and one year later she remarkably made it through a marathon and multiple distance races just prior to having her appendix removed.
She was too young to run in the 1972 Olympics, but that didn’t keep her away from the world stage. In 1973 she won an 800-meter race at a dual meet between the United States and the Soviet Union in Minsk, knocking off a future silver medalist.
Decker Slaney went on to become the number one prospect for the 800 and earned multiple world records. The first world record for Decker Slaney was for a 4:40.1 indoor mile, followed by a 1974 1000-meter time of 2:26.7, an 800 time of 2:01.8, and an 880-meter time of 2:02.4.
Unfortunately, the streak of success was interrupted when Decker Slaney’s body gave out to a muscle condition in ’74, prohibiting her from competing in the 1976 Olympic Games. Thankfully for the Buffs, though, this bend in the road led the running superstar directly to Colorado, where she spent two seasons changing CU cross country & track forever.
Rich Castro, who started CU’s women’s intercollegiate track & field program in 1975 was Decker Slaney’s coach. He was introduced to Decker Slaney by a mutual friend and CU All-American John Gregorio. There was no doubt in Castro’s mind that Decker Slaney would have a great CU career.
“Mary had already competed in some really big meets for the USA vs. the Russians, so collegiate competition didn’t seem to faze her,” Castro said. “She knew she was talented and had a lot of self-confidence; but was one of the most competitive athletes I have ever been associated with.”
What made Decker Slaney’s career even more remarkable was its place in time in women’s athletics. Title IX was in its infancy. There were no Nike contracts or chartered flights. Her collegiate achievements even predate the NCAA as women’s athletics at that time fell under the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW).
“We operated on a shoe string budget during my era and I donated my salary back to the program,” Castro said. “The (jersey) that Mary and her teammates wore were plain white cotton shirts that kept shrinking and had iron on black numbers. Not very flattering. We would stuff our teams into brown 15 passenger vans and hit the road, seldom making stops and rarely getting to spend the night.”
A two-time AIAW All-American in cross country, Decker Slaney was the 1978 individual national champion. She also won the 1978 national title in the indoor 1,000 meters and was a two-time All-American indoors.
Decker Slaney still holds two school indoor records (800, 1000). She was the Big Eight Conference Indoor champion in four events (400, 800, Mile and 4x400 relay)
In 1980, she broke the world record for the women's mile, running a 4:17.55 to become the first woman to break the 4:20 barrier for the mile.
In 1982 Decker set six world records, at the following distances: 800m, 1500, mile, 3000, 5000 and 10,000; she is the only athlete to ever hold all six, much less at the same time. This amazing feat won Decker Slaney the coveted James E. Sullivan award for the top amateur athlete, the Sportsperson of the Year award from Sports Illustrated, and the Jesse Owens Award from USA Track & Field.
Overall, she set world records in 10 different events and she still holds the U.S. women's records in the 1500 (3:57.12), mile (4:16.71) and 3000 (8:25.83). In 1983, she achieved a "Decker Double", winning both the 1500 meters and 3000 meters events at the 1983 World Championships in Helsinki.
Finally, in 1984, the runner was able to fulfill her dream of competing in the Olympics. Although the end result was unexpected, Decker gracefully continued into a successful season in ’85, winning multiple races and welcoming her first daughter, Ashley Lynn, into the world.
Decker Slaney saw the Olympic track for the last time in 1996. She now lives with her family in Eugene and still enjoys running whenever she can.
“Although Mary only spent a couple of years at CU she put us on the map and got the program off to a great start,” Castro said. I am glad that CU has not forgotten that she was there at the beginning and that we were a small part of a now great tradition.”