Olympic Collision: The Story of Mary Decker and Zola Budd

Olympic Collision: The Story of Mary Decker and Zola Budd

Olympic Collision: The Story of Mary Decker and Zola Budd

Olympic Collision: The Story of Mary Decker and Zola Budd


It remains one of the most memorable moments in modern Olympic history. At the 1984 summer games in Los Angeles, a raucous crowd of ninety thousand saw their favorite in the women's 3,000-meter race, Mary Decker, go down. An audience of two billion around the world witnessed the mishap and listened to the instantaneous accusations against the suspected culprit, Zola Budd.

Just seventeen, the South African Budd had already been the target of a vicious and vocal campaign by the antiapartheid lobby after she transferred to the British team in order to compete at the games. Decker, at twenty-six, was America's golden girl, ready to overcome years of bad luck and injuries to rightfully take the Olympic gold for which she had waited so long. With three laps to go, Decker and Budd's feet became tangled. Decker went down and didn't get up, wailing in primal agony as her gold medal hopes vanished. Decker's stumbles continued in the race's aftermath when she refused Budd's apology and race officials found her, not Budd, at fault for the collision. Although both women found success after the Olympics, neither could escape the long shadow of the infamous event that forever changed both of their lives and defines them in popular culture to this day.

Olympic Collision follows Decker and Budd through their lives and careers, telling the story behind the controversy; the account that emerges is certain to revise the view Americans, in particular, have held since that fateful day in Los Angeles more than thirty years ago. Olympic Collision relives one of the most famous incidents in Olympic history, its legacy, and what has happened to both athletes since.


She was the most motivated and talented runner I have ever seen.

—Don DeNoon on the eleven- year-old Mary Decker

Mary Decker entered the world on August 4, 1958, in a delivery room at the Hunterdon Medical Center in Flemington, New Jersey, about ten miles from the home of her parents, John and Jacqueline Decker, in the tiny crossroads village of Bunnvale. the birth certificate recorded her full name as Mary Teresa Decker. the birth was unremarkable, and Jacqueline and her newborn daughter soon returned to Bunnvale.

Mary would spend her first ten years in a peaceful, bucolic area of the nation’s most densely populated state. People in Bunnvale knew their neighbors, and they rarely locked their doors. the four-season climate could produce hot humid summers and bitterly cold winters, but the residents took it all in stoic stride. No parkway or turnpike was then in sight, and many roads in the county were still dirt. the low rolling hills, heavily forested, surrounded acres of farmland under cultivation. Poultry and dairy farms were prevalent, and fields of golden hay, Jersey tomatoes, and tall sweet corn were arrayed in checkerboard patterns throughout. Hunterdon County was bisected by the waters of the South Branch of the Raritan River and bordered on the west by the Delaware River as it made its way eastward toward the Atlantic Ocean, about fifty miles away.

About equidistant from Philadelphia and New York, Hunterdon was one of the least populated of the state’s twenty-one counties. With fewer than one hundred thousand people, it had as yet no major shopping malls. Flemington, the county seat, had a population of about four thousand. the medical center where Mary was born had been constructed only a few years earlier through a massive countywide fund-raising effort.

Mary attended public school in Lebanon Township. in the late 1950s five county high schools accepted students on a geographic basis.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.