As Mary Decker and her husband, Richard Slaney, drove to the Los Angeles Sports Arena Friday night for her first race since she fell at the Olympics, she said to him, "Maybe I should go over to the Coliseum and reminisce."

She smiled wanly as she retold the story. "It's to the point now where I have to take it lightly and as a joke," she said. "That was intended as a joke."

Decker, who treads very lightly in front of microphones these days, has come full circle. She finally has gotten up, dusted herself off and dried her tears after tripping Aug. 10 in the Coliseum. And Friday night, she made the perfect comeback, athletically and theatrically.

Although she said the women's indoor 2,000-meter best set by Yekaterina Podkopayeva was "not one of the more quality" marks in track, she broke it by almost nine seconds in the time of 5:34.52.

"Here I am," she said later. "This is me. I haven't changed."

The race at the Sunkist Invitational Indoor Track and Field Meet would have meant nothing were it not for Zola Budd and the unfinished Olympic 3,000-meter race. Decker, who as America's (former?) track darling is not used to boos, heard some when she was introduced.

But as soon as she started running -- certainly as well as she ever has -- she won over the crowd, finishing with the usual standing ovation. She appeared to have wiped the dirty slate clean.

The 2,000 is an event that is rarely run, the field was hardly spectacular and it's very early in the year. Yet it was a very important race. Still with no apologies to Budd, Decker is back, perhaps even better than before.

"I'm sure they'll hear the news," she said of her main competitors. "I'm sure they'll be ready."

Ruth Wysocki, who continues to criticize Decker for not apologizing to Budd, whom she blamed for her fall, was impressed.

"She wants to put the Olympics behind her. She wants to go on," Wysocki said after finishing a distant second, 11 seconds behind Decker. "What better way to go on than to break a record and really show that you're ready to go? She did that."

Decker plans to run the 1,500 at the Millrose Games Friday at Madison Square Garden, followed the next week by the Olympic Invitational at the Meadowlands.

She will concentrate on the 3,000 later in the year. And, as she has before, she scoffed at talk of turning to marathons. "I'm not ready to think about that yet," she said.

Competitively, she is back on track. She drank a toast to the 1988 Olympics soon after she fell at tle '84 Games, and there is no reason to doubt, at least at this point, that she will be there, trying to win her first Olympic medal.

But the scars remain. Decker's normally soft words turn biting when asked about Wysocki or Budd.

Wysocki, who said the hype before the race "embarrassed" her, said she thought Decker was running to try to set a world best.

Decker: "How would she know?"

When the Budd incident came up, as it always does, at her news conference, Decker said, "I think it's time to go."

Wysocki, who beat Decker in the 1,500 at the Olympic trials in June, has never met Budd.

"I just really had strong feelings for this poor girl," Wysocki said after the race Friday. "Here she's been blamed for the whole apartheid policy, she has a sick mother, a family that's splitting up, she's trying to decide where she's going to live the rest of her life, and then to have her idol just tear her apart. It just seemed uncalled for.

"I don't see why Mary couldn't have later calmed down and said, 'Look, I was real upset at the time. I'm sorry.' "

Decker still refuses to apologize. "I know what happened," she said Friday.

Perhaps Decker's life off the track will always be tainted by the Budd incident, even if her life on it returns to normal.

"I admire her talents and the injuries she's overcome, the hard times," Wysocki said. "She's an inspiration to all of us. She's done a lot of good for women's running. I admire Mary."

Decker, who took Slaney's name after their Jan. 1 wedding (officially, she still is "Decker" on the track), might be looking for a new beginning.

"This was my first race in track as Mary Slaney," she said.

Wysocki said: "Personally, I think the whole (Budd) matter should just drop and blow over."

Decker does, too.