Born August 18, 1962 in Kingston, Jamaica 5-8/1.73m 138/62kg St. Angela Hall HS, Brooklyn, NY '80 Arizona '81 Cal State LA '85 PRs (outdoor): 200 23.32 '89 400 51.35 '92 800 2:10.94 '84 100H 13.58 '89 400H 52.79 '93 PR (indoor): 300 38.00 '96 400 52.81 '92 Major Meets (400H unless noted): 1977 1)USA Junior 1979 1)USA Junior 1981 dq-s)USA 1982 4)USA 9)Commonwealth 1983 6)NCAA 4s)USA 5h)WC 1984 3h)USA Indoor 440y 2)NCAA 5)USA 8)Olympic Games 1985 4)NCAA 5h)NCAA 100H 5)USA 1986 2)USA 1987 2)USA 2)Pan-Am Games 4)World Champs 3)GP Final 1988 dq-s)Olympic Trials 5)GP Final 400 1989 6)USA Indoor 400 1)USA 1)World Cup 1)GP Final 1990 2)USA 1991 2)USA 4)World Champs 1)GP Final 1992 1)Olympic Trials 2)Olympic Games 1)World Cup 1993 1)USA 2)World Champs 1)GP Final 1995 4)USA 4)GP Final 1996 3)Olympic Trials 5s)Olympic Games Major Relays: 1987 6)World Champs 4 x 400  (Jamaica)
Sandra Farmer-Patrick has no goals for 1997. None. "Dan Pfaff and I were talking," she explains. "We don't set goals anymore. When you put things in perspective, setting plans is good, but when you set goals, sometimes the Track God doesn't come through like he should. Then you become totally distraught, because your perspective was just out of line."
Such may have been the case last year, with Farmer-Patrick deeply disappointed by her season. She and coach Pfaff felt she was in shape to climb back to the top, but an injury before the Olympics left her unable to even make the 400H final there. "I got hurt," she says, "I felt I had worked so hard and I wanted to represent my country, so I lined up [in the Olympic semi] although I knew I was hurt. I lined up and did the best I could and was as courageous as I could, but my injury just wasn't well in time for the Games."
She looks back and says, "I was very disappointed, but I learned a lot from '96 also. It changes the way I train, the way I plan and my whole life. Since I've had the baby I've had problems struggling with the injuries, and I think I've finally learned how to keep them under control."
To understand something of Farmer-Patrick's Olympic frustration, one must have an idea how long she's been working for a gold. Born in Jamaica as Sandra Miller, raised in Brooklyn as Sandra Farmer, she is one of few athletes who have had to choose which nation to compete for. In her case, the decision led to the heartbreaking loss of a possible Olympic medal.
Farmer-Patrick spent her first 11 years living with an aunt, and then her grandmother, in Jamaica. Then her great-aunt Vita Farmer adopted her and moved her to Brooklyn. She attended a Pentecostal church six days a week (and three times each Sunday). The strict religious upbringing motivated her to join the Flashettes Track Club, mainly to get out of the house. At first, she had to run in a skirt, for religious reasons, but gradually she and coach Don Johnson were able to convince her "Mother Farmer" that shorts were the way to go.
Mother Farmer became more accepting of track as time went on. Farmer-Patrick set an American Junior record of 58.90 in the 400 hurdles at age 14, and the scholarship money she had won in the Colgate Games paid for her to attend Brooklyn's St. Angela Hall, where she ran 58.31. She ranked twice among the top Americans in the 400H before representing Jamaica internationally in 1982. Collegiate competition for Arizona and Cal State LA yielded a few high NCAA finishes for her, but the career really took off as she gained international experience competing for Jamaica.
In 1987, Farmer-Patrick made her breakthrough to the big time, running 54.38 and just missing a medal at the World Championships in Rome. The next year, after her January 1988 marriage to U.S. hurdler David Patrick, she passed up a certain spot on the Jamaican Olympic team to try to compete for the United States.
"I live, think, eat and drink American," she told Track & Field News. "I feel like an American, so it makes more sense for me to try to represent the U.S."
The 1988 Olympic Trials in Indianapolis saw her husband run the fastest race of his life, 47.75, only to finish a frustrating fourth. Farmer-Patrick, an automatic favorite when she announced her allegiance switch prior to the meet, met disaster in her semi. Because of water in lane one, all of the runners were moved out a lane. SFP ran in lane six, but wore hip number '5'. She started the race correctly, but coming off the turn followed the number '5' on the track and drifted into that lane. At the end of the backstretch Schowonda Williams yelled, "Sandy, you're in my lane!" and Farmer-Patrick moved back to lane six.
SFP won the semi in 55.19, but officials disqualified her for the lane violation. She had gained no advantage, as she ran in the correct lane on both turns; Williams vouched that she had not been hampered. The jury of appeals wouldn't budge, and Farmer-Patrick missed the Olympics. With dual citizenship she had the legal option of still competing for Jamaica at Seoul, but one U.S. coach said, "Some of the Jamaican papers branded her a traitor after she decided to compete here. I think she'd be in danger if she went back." SFP sent the Jamaican federation a telegram anyway; she never got a response.
Farmer-Patrick returned stronger than ever in 1989, running undefeated. At the USA Champs (her first race after the Olympics she missed), she and David became the first husband/wife duo to win national titles since Hal (hammer) and Olga (discus) Connolly did in 1964. SFP later won the World Cup and GP Final. She cut a second off her best with a 53.37 clocking and captured U.S. Athlete of the Year honors.
SFP's next Olympic opportunity came in 1992. Wearing a sleek uniform complete with tutu, she hammered the Trials field by over a second, her 53.62 well ahead of runner-up Tonja Buford's 54.75. Favored in Barcelona, she went out fast but was reeled in by the smooth form of Britain's Sally Gunnell. With silver medal in hand, she defended her race, "I don't think I went out too fast. If I hadn't, I don't think I would have even won the silver."
In 1993 at the World Championships in Stuttgart, she again faced Gunnell, hoping for her first gold medal at a major international championship. She had joined on with a new coach, Bob Kersee, just a month before. The day before the final, he had confined her to her hotel room, even though it was her 31st birthday.
This time, no one could accuse her of doing anything wrong in the final. She led from the start on a hellacious pace, and finished in a startling 52.79, 0.15 faster than the World record going into the race. Unfortunately for Farmer-Patrick, Gunnell had pulled even on the last turn and had barely outraced her to the finish. Gunnell got the gold and the WR plaque with her 52.74.
"I don't feel that I lost the race," said Farmer-Patrick. "I just got beat. I'm holding my head up high because I gave it my all." Later that season, SFP captured the overall Grand Prix championship; to do so, she had to beat World record-holder Gunnell on her home track.
Farmer-Patrick took the next year off to give birth to her daughter, Sierra Channel. Then, in 1995, she ran a strong season, placing fourth at USA Nationals and running a season best of 54.57.
After her disappointment in 1996, Farmer-Patrick took a long, hard look at her career to decide what she still wanted, and what she had to do to get it. "The thing is to stay healthy," she says, "Because last year I was very fit before I got hurt. If I know I can stay healthy, I'll be fine. We're not focusing so much on being in shape and being the strongest and the fastest, but just training correctly. Dan is there on a daily basis to help me out. That's good because I never really had anyone working with me in a structured way before."
She continues, "This year, I've set my plans, and I plan on this being a good year for me. The following year, 1998, it's a low-key year. I plan on really getting intense and into it again in 1999 and 2000. Physically I know I can do it. Nothing's changed. My workouts indicate that as soon as I start, I can hit the times. It's just getting under the right program and training smart. You just can't train like you're 18 or 19 years old when you get older and when you've had a child because the body just doesn't function the same."
Farmer-Patrick, now 34, concludes, "I think it's meant for me to hang in there for 2000 only because of what happened last year. I can't go out like that. I have to stay around."