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Mary Decker facts for kids

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Mary Decker 1982.jpg
Decker in 1982
Quick facts for kids
Personal information
Birth name Mary Teresa Decker
Nationality United States
Born August 4, 1958 (1958-08-04) (age 62)
Bunnvale, New Jersey, U.S.
Height 168 cm
Weight 51 kg
Sport Middle distance running
Event(s) 800–5000 m
Club Athletics West, Eugene
Retired 1999
Achievements and titles
Personal best(s) 800 m: 1:56.90 (1985)
1500 m: 3:57.12 (1983)
Mile: 4:16.71 (1985)
3000 m: 8:25.83 (1985)
5000 m: 15:06.53 (1985)
10,000 m: 31:35.3 (1982)

Mary Teresa Slaney (formerly Tabb, née Decker on August 4, 1958) is a retired American middle-distance runner. During her career, she won gold medals in the 1500 meters and 3000 meters at the 1983 World Championships, and was the world record holder in the mile, 5000 meters and 10,000 meters. In total, she set 17 official and unofficial world records, including being the first woman in history to break 4:20 for the mile. She also set 36 US national records at distances ranging from 800 meters to 10,000 meters, and has held the US record in the mile, 2000 meters and 3000 meters since the early 1980s, while her 1500 meters record stood for 32 years. In 2003, she was inducted into the National Track and Field Hall of Fame.

Early life

Mary Decker was born in Bunnvale, New Jersey. A decade later her family moved to Garden Grove in Southern California, where Decker started running. A year later, aged 11, she won her first local competition.

She joined her school athletics club and a local track club, and completely immersed herself in running, for which she would pay an injury-laden price later in her career. At age 12, she completed a marathon and four middle- and long-distance races in one week, ending the week with an appendectomy operation.


In her early teens, Decker was already recognized as a world-class runner. Unable to attend the 1972 Olympics as she was too young, the pigtailed 89 pounds (40 kg) 14-year-old nicknamed "Little Mary Decker," won international acclaim in 1973 with a win in the 800 meters at a US-Soviet meet in Minsk, beating the reigning Olympic silver medallist, Nijolė Sabaitė.

By the end of 1972, Decker was ranked first in the United States and fourth in the world in the 800 meters. In 1973 she gained her first world record, running an indoor mile in 4:40.1. By 1974, Decker was the world Indoor record holder with 2:02.4 for 880 yards, and 2:01.8 for 800 meters.

By the end of 1974, she had developed a case of the muscle condition compartment syndrome. This resulted in a series of injuries, which meant that she did not compete in the 1976 Olympics, because of stress fractures in her lower leg. In 1978 she had an operation to try to cure compartment syndrome, which kept her out of competition for a period. After recovering from surgery, she spent two seasons at the University of Colorado at Boulder on a track scholarship. In 1979, she became the second American woman (the first was Francie Larrieu) to break the 4:30 mile in American record time. Decker was the first woman to break the 4:20 barrier for the mile in 1980 when she ran it in 4:17.55. However, this time was never ratified by the IAAF. She did not compete at the 1980 Moscow Olympics due to the American boycott. She did however receive one of 461 Congressional Gold Medals created especially for the spurned athletes.

In 1981 she married fellow American distance runner Ron Tabb. The couple divorced in 1983. In 1982, under the name Mary Tabb, she ran the mile in 4:18.08, breaking the official record of 4:20.89 by the Soviet Lyudmila Veselkova. This time was ratified.

Career peak

In 1982 Decker-Tabb set six world records, at distances ranging from the mile run to 10,000 meters. She received the James E. Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in the United States.

The following year she achieved the "Double Decker," winning both the 1500 meters and 3000 meters events at the World Championships in Helsinki, Finland. Her history of relatively easy wins in the United States left her tactical abilities suspect in Helsinki, as she would not choose to run in close order because so few athletes could keep up with her, a situation that the Soviet runners hoped to use to their advantage. Her wins against Soviet World Record holders proved a redemption of her competitive guile. After her double win she won the Jesse Owens Award from USA Track and Field and Sports Illustrated magazine named her Sportsperson of the Year. Shortly before her World Championship victories, Decker improved her U.S. 1500 meters record to 3:57.12 in Stockholm on July 26, 1983. This record stood for 32 years until Shannon Rowbury ran 3:56.29 on July 17, 2015.

Later life

Throughout her later career, Decker had suffered a series of stress induced fractures. After the loss of her 1999 legal case, she agreed to have a series of 30+ orthopedic procedures. Mainly on her legs and feet, they were an attempt to enable her to run competitively in marathons. However, the surgery increased the occurrence of the problems. As a result, she retired with her husband to a 55-acre (22 ha) property in Eugene, Oregon, where she can now jog every other day.

International competitions

Year Competition Venue Position Event Notes
Representing  United States
1979 Pan American Games San Juan, Puerto Rico 1st 1500 m 4:05.7
1983 World Championships Helsinki, Finland 1st 1500 m 4:00.90
1st 3000 m 8:34.62
1984 Olympic Games Los Angeles, United States DNF 3000 m 8:44.32 (heat)
1985 Grand Prix Final Rome, Italy 1st 3000 m 8:46.38
1988 Olympic Games Seoul, South Korea 8th 1500 m 4:02.49
10th 3000 m 8:47.13
1991 Grand Prix Final Barcelona, Spain 2nd Mile 4:28.35
1996 Olympic Games Atlanta, United States 21st (h) 5000 m 15:41.30
1997 World Indoor Championships Paris, France DQ (2nd) 1500 m 4:05.22
Elliptical Cycling
2012 World Championships San Diego, United States 2nd Palomar Mountain 1:51.34
2013 World Championships San Diego, United States 3rd 1:45.27
2014 World Championships San Diego, United States 3rd 1:31.22
2015 World Championships San Diego, United States 2nd 1:30.54
(h) Indicates overall position in qualifying heats. DNF = did not finish. DQ = disqualified.
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