It seems that every time Mary Decker Slaney has entered a track meet since the Los Angeles Olympics, the outcome has been the same. Another meet, another mishap.
This time, in the 1,500 meters of the 16th Vitalis/U.S. Olympic Invitational track and field meet Saturday night, Slaney had nobody to blame but herself. This time, there was no Zola Budd to tangle with as she did in the 1984 Olympic 3,000-meter final six months ago. This time, there was no mugging incident as there had been a week before last month's Millrose Games to upset her concentration.
Saturday night at the Meadowlands' Brendan Byrne Arena, Slaney, attempting to become the first woman to break four minutes for the indoor 1,500 meters, suffered another setback when she dropped out two laps before the end of the event with a leg cramp.
As the announcer informed an enthusiastic crowd of 14,833 of the world-record pace with two laps remaining, Slaney started slowing up.
Slaney, 26, began to limp on the turn going into the final straightaway and ran about 50 more meters before stepping off the track, clutching her right calf.
"She was right on pace to finish in 3:58 or 3:59," said Dick Brown, Slaney's coach. "She felt a twinge in her calf. She kept running and it didn't work out, so she dropped out. She was disappointed. She said, 'How could this happen? I don't understand.' "
Slaney, running under her married name for the first time, departed the track in the same manner as she did in Los Angeles six months ago, carried in the arms of Richard Slaney, then her fiance and now her husband. She would not talk to reporters afterward.
Diana Richburg, coming off a runner-up effort in the Los Angeles Times 1,000 meters Friday, stayed within 10 meters of Slaney the whole way and won the race in 4:08.57.
Richburg said that for a split second she had felt sorry for Slaney, but then she just concentrated on finishing the race.
"A thought registered in my mind, a feeling of awe, and I felt bad for her," said Richburg, the U.S. record-holder in the women's 1,000. "I just got back in the race and started pumping.
"I knew Mary was going for the record. It was just a mishap. That's the way it goes."
While Slaney was warming up for her event, rival Ruth Wysocki was staging the upset of the meet in the 3,000 meters, beating Olympic gold medalist Maricica Puica of Romania in a meet-record 8:49.93, only 2.6 seconds off Slaney's world best and U.S. record.
In the men's mile, Ireland's Eamonn Coghlan edged Sydney Maree by .03 seconds to win in 3:52.37, nearly three seconds off the indoor world best he ran on the same track two years ago.
Triple Olympic gold medalist Valerie Brisco-Hooks set the meet's only U.S. record, lowering her week-old mark in the 400 meters from 52.99 to 52.63, beating Diane Dixon in a photo-finish.
In addition to the marks established by Wysocki and Brisco-Hooks, meet records were set by Earl Jones in the 800, 1:48.42; Jeff Buckingham in the pole vault, 18 feet 8 3/4 inches; Alice Brown in the women's 55, 6.66 seconds; Joetta Clark in the women's 800, 2:02.30, and Vali Ionescu of Romania in the women's long jump, 21-8 3/4.