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Did Zola Budd Trip Mary Decker? Olympic Distance Running Controversy

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Did Zola Budd trip Mary Decker in 1984? The video was inconclusive but there’s no doubt that the 3000-meter race produced one of the greatest controversies in Olympic track and field history.

Budd was already a well-known and controversial competitor prior to the Los Angeles Games. The barefoot runner was born in South Africa, which was then banned from the Olympics due to its government’s apartheid policy. When Budd applied for British citizenship in early 1984 her request was expedited and she became a British citizen in time to compete in Los Angeles where she earned a spot in the 3000 final.

Just past the midpoint of the race, with Budd slightly ahead of Decker, the two came in contact but neither broke stride. Moments later, however, Budd moved lower on the track and Decker stepped on Budd’s heel, causing Budd to stumble and Decker to trip over Budd. Budd got up and continued but never drew back into contention. Decker remained down with an injured thigh. Romania’s Maricica Puica went on to win the race.

Decker angrily blamed Budd for the incident, saying there was “no doubt” that Budd was at fault. Track officials initially agreed, disqualifying Budd for obstruction, but reversed their decision after reviewing tapes of the race, which seemed to indicate that Budd’s move, while perhaps a bit abrupt, was made in reaction to other runners’ movements and was unintentional. In any event, the tangle cost both runners the chance for an Olympic medal in 1984.

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