There is the history of women's track in America, and then there is the history of Ruth Wysocki's career, which is a little longer. In her latest incarnation, she is a 39-year-old 1500 runner who is pointing for the Olympic Trials. She will be the only competitor there who got her first Trials experience in 1976. One of her current rivals, Suzy Hamilton, was all of 7 then.
At the end of 1994, a friend called Wysocki and asked what it would take to get her to go for the Olympics once more. "I didn't hang up, but I did laugh," she said of her response. But the more she thought about the idea, the more she liked it. "I saw the rankings and times [from 1994], and that helped my decision." She rang up Vince O'Boyle, her coach of the past two decades, and they worked out a plan for 1995. Wysocki figured if she could run 4:11 or so, she would keep going into 1996.
Wysocki hit the 4:11 goal in May. Then, at the USA Championships, she led most of the 1500 before finishing 4th in 4:08.22. She ran a couple of races in Europe, topped by a PR 2:38.36 for 1000m. After that she headed back to the States to train. While at a running camp at Lake Tahoe on the eve of the World Championships, she got word that U.S. champion Regina Jacobs had been sidelined by a foot injury. Frantically, Wysocki retrieved her 5-year-old son, dropped him off with relatives, raced back to southern California, and boarded a plane to Sweden. That's when she perceived an omen that good things would happen: "I got bumped up to business class."
She arrived in Gothenburg Saturday evening and ran the first round of the 1500 the next day. She advanced. A day later, she ran the semifinal, and again advanced, the only American to do so. In the final, she ran an impressive 4:07.08 to finish 7th against the world's best. In the following weeks she brought her 1500 time down to 4:05.03 and added performances of 1:59.78 in the 800 and 8:56.55 in the 3000. "I have to believe it was meant to be," she concluded.
Wysocki--originally Kleinsasser--got her start in southern California's age group track scene in the late '60s. By the time she graduated from high school in 1974, she had run the half mile in 2:10.7. Four years later she revealed her promise, upsetting Mary Slaney to win the national 800 title in 2:01.99. But then she seemed to fade away, her running suffering as her first marriage crumbled. She bopped around a bit on the track and on the roads but didn't re-emerge until 1984, when her current husband, Tom Wysocki, encouraged her to run again. Tom was a national-class runner in his own right, running 28:34 for 10,000 that year.
Wysocki came into the Olympic Trials with bests of 2:01.18 and 4:13.25. First she impressed by making the team in the 800 with a PR 1:59.34 for 2nd. Then came the race for which she is most famous. Hoping only to sneak in for a 3rd place in the 1500, she found herself alongside Mary Slaney with 150 to go. She edged ahead. "All of the sudden, there was the tape," Wysocki said. "My reaction was, 'What have I done?' "
She had upset the reigning queen of middle distance running. It was the first time in four years that any American had beaten Slaney on the track. No one, no one at all, would have pegged Wysocki to be the author of such a victory. Her 4:00.18 chopped more than 13 seconds off her lifetime best. In the Olympics, Wysocki made both finals, running 2:00.34 for 6th and 4:08.92 for 8th. "I can only do what I can," she said.
She stuck with the sport for another four years, none of them nearly as good. In 1988, she finished 4th in the Trials 1500. With no big meet to go to and retirement beckoning, she joined a bandit tour of athletes who journeyed to South Africa to compete in violation of international sanctions. For that she earned a four-year ban from the sport, something she is still bitter about. In comparison, Ben Johnson received only a two-year ban after he used steroids to steal the Olympic 100 that year.
In 1992, with the readmission of South Africa into the international sporting community, the ban on Wysocki was lifted early. Not that it did her much good. In the Trials 1500 she finished 11th. Retirement beckoned again. She found herself spending more time helping her husband with the real estate business and raising their son, Michael.
Then came the phone call that started Wysocki up again. "I've had to make some sacrifices," she said last summer. "My husband and I work together, and when I'm away he has to do more work."
Looking at her career history, she concluded, "The three times I've retired have helped keep my mind fresh, but I really don't recommend doing it that way."
Born March 8, 1957 in Alhambra, Ca 5-9/1.75m 135/61kg Azusa HS (Ca) '74 Redlands '75, Citrus JC '79 Nike Coast Club PRs (outdoor): 400--55.0y '75 800--1:58.65 '84 1000--2:38.36 '95 1500--4:00.18 '84 Mile--4:21.78 '84 2000--5:40.09 '84 3000--8:52.91 '87 5000--16:37.22 '85 PRs (indoor): 1500--4:14.2 '85 Mile--4:35.2 '85 2000--5:45.93 '85 3000--8:49.93 '85 PRs (road): 10K--34:24 '81 10M--57:24 '85 Major Meets: 1973 7)USA 800 1973 7)USA Junior 800 1976 4)USA 1500 1976 8)Olympic Trials 800 1976 4h)Olympic Trials 1500 1977 9)USA 800 1978 1)USA 800 1984 2)USA 800 1984 2)Olympic Trials 800 1984 1)Olympic Trials 1500 1984 6)Olympic Games 800 1984 8)Olympic Games 1500 1985 3)USA 1500 1986 7)USA 1500 1987 12)USA 1500 1987 8)GP Final 3000 1988 4)Olympic Trials 1500 1988 6)Olympic Trials 3000 1988 4)GP Final 1500 1992 11)Olympic Trials 1500 1995 4)USA 1500 1995 7)World Championships 1500 1996 14)Olympic Trials 1500