Well, we're getting close now. You always can tell when Mary Decker Slaney is coming into, or going out of, a big race: she gets carried into, or out of, her news conference by her husband, Richard The Large. Never a dull moment. Never a dry eye. She playing Ophelia to his Conan. She gets carried off so much that she doesn't need her own airplane tickets anymore; he just brings her on board as carry-on luggage.
Isn't it rich? Aren't they a pair? He with that scowl on his face, she in mid-air.
So, where are the clowns?
There ought to be clowns.
Don't bother. They're here.
Live, Saturday Night, from Crystal Palace -- the outdoor sports stadium that sounds like it was created by Spelling-Goldberg -- it's "Decker-Budd II: Days of Whine and Zolas," the track version of "One Race to Run (But We'll Do It Each Week If The Money Is Good)."
Cue the theme music.
Roll the credits.
Start running those commercials to pay for this thing.
Yes, for the first time since the Los Angeles Olympics (but not the last, you can be sure of that), it's time to turn on your television sets and watch Mary Decker Slaney run against Zola Budd, or, as recent imagery would suggest, Alexis Carrington Decker against punky Brewster Budd. (And by the way, who's going to carry Budd off the track if she falls? Why not Jack Nicklaus? He's got nothing else to do, and he's close by.)
Surely you remember what happened the last time they met: Zola, the Barefoot Girl from South Africa running for England, thanks to grants from Parliament and The Daily Mail, had the cheek to cut sharply in front of Mary a few laps into the 3,000 meters. Their feet tangled. Mary tripped, fell, and continued to lay on the infield grass pounding the ground and furiously weeping. Later she would say, "Zola Budd did this to me. I hold Zola Budd completely responsible." As the crowd aimed boos at her, Zola, her left heel cut open and bleeding, ran the remaining laps with tears in her eyes. Fading quickly, like cheap paint, she finished seventh. Much later she would say, "I knew I could have won a medal, (but) the people would have booed again. I didn't want any of that, so I ran slower."
Their race -- a race in which one of them finished seventh and the other did not finish at all -- provided the single most dramatic moment of the Games, and, in an amusing symbiotic irony, elevated them higher, together in defeat, than either dared hope become in victory.
A miniseries in the making.
A crash made in Heaven.
(And underwritten by ABC.)
There could be no more in-between with these two. After Los Angeles, they became a worldwide morality play. The pro-Slaney point of view saw her now as the bounty hunter, seeking justifiable revenge on the snipe who'd cost her the medal she richly deserved. The pro-Budd point of view saw her now as the scapegoat, the innocent victim of a public relations plot hatched by a mean, whining witch who had no business pulling the Angel Cordero move on the inside lane in the first place.
Then again, you could endorse the pox on both, as Simon Barnes did in Friday's Times of London, "There is something rather awful about both of them . . . the overly made-up siren of the jogging generation with her all-American teeth, brought low by little Zola, the plaything of politicians and newspapermen, flying under her flag of convenience . . . It all begins to feel rather more like wrestling: Mary (Toothsome) Decker against Zola (Killerfeet) Budd."
And the bleat goes on.
Just the other day Slaney said of the Olympics incident: "I may forgive, but I don't forget." And Budd, perhaps out of spite as much as hype, refused to appear in the same room with Slaney, insisting on a separate media audience, at which she reversed an earlier stance and said she didn't want to meet with Slaney anywhere but on the track.
"One of the big personality races of the century," Alan Pascoe, with all due modesty and historical perspective, called this, his own promotion.
What were some of the other big personality races? Affirmed-Alydar?
This track meet is being sponsored by Mobil. Maybe the next time they race it ought to be Procter & Gamble.
Does the word "soap" ring a bell?
Well, Decker generously conceded, "There is something a little theatrical about it."
I should hope so, since there isn't much that seems competitive about it. ABC might like to hype this as a match race in the tradition of Ruffian and Foolish Pleasure, but the truth is that Slaney is a far better racer than Budd, and everyone, including Budd, knows it. "I don't think I can win," Budd said on Thursday, explaining that her best time in the 3,000 this year is eight seconds slower than Slaney's. Since coming from South Africa, Budd has shown she can run -- not that she can race. Slaney can do both, and it wouldn't be a surprise if Slaney won big and Budd was just one of the bunch behind.
The answer to the unasked trivia question is: Maricica Puica.
She won that 3,000 in Los Angeles.
She might well have won this, too.
But Slaney probably didn't want Puica here. Budd probably didn't want her here. ABC probably didn't want her here. The promoter didn't want her here. And from the way it looks, even her own federation in Romania didn't want her here. When you promote something as a grudge match, two's company, three's a crowd.
Puica is the one whom Slaney and Budd will have to beat when the shelf life on their pas de deux expires. But until then, kick off your shoes, sit back and relax, the show's about to begin.