It was the most infamous fall in Olympic history and now Zola Budd has told how she deliberately slowed down after she tangled with Mary Decker who came crashing to the ground at the 1984 Los Angeles Games.
Budd, the barefoot South Africa-born runner who was given a fast-track passport to represent Great Britain at the Olympics, said she “gave up” after the incident because she did not want to win a medal when the crowd started to boo her.
Budd and Decker have been reunited for a feature-length documentary 32 years after the catastrophic finish to one of the most eagerly anticipated clashes on the running track.
Budd said she could only recall a “blur” of the events of the 3,000m Olympic final. “I only knew someone had fallen. When I passed by the spot again, on the next lap, it was then I realised it was Mary,” she told the Radio Times. “And the crowd started booing. That’s when I gave up. Everything leading up to it, all the politics, all the hype, and then for Mary to fall. it was like a soap opera. It couldn’t be real. I slowed down deliberately. I didn’t want to be on the medal podium. In a way, I stopped running.”
Budd had joined the British team on the grounds that her grandfather was British, but the switch was hugely controversial during the apartheid-era sporting boycott.
She and Decker clashed just after the halfway mark in the race. Budd, who was at the front of the field at the time, briefly regained the lead but finished seventh. The gold medal was won by Romania’s Maricica Puică.
Budd said she still thought about the race today. “Yes I do. You can’t not. It becomes part of your life,” she said. “It did make me angry, but not any more. I still feel angry at people for blaming me for apartheid, and wanting me to take responsibility for that. But I’m not bitter.”
Decker, the former world champion and one-time golden girl of US athletics who set a string of world records in the run-up to the 1984 Games, said: “I don’t think about it. It’s something that almost happened in a different lifetime. People need to understand that the Olympics are important, but they don’t define your entire career.”
In the Sky Atlantic documentary, The Fall, the two women jog together on the grassed-over track in the LA stadium where it happened.
Budd said it was “probably good for both of us. To be there with Mary put a lot of things to rest. Before, it was this huge stadium full of booing people. But meeting Mary normalised everything. It healed both of us.”
Decker said: “I think I have arrived at a good place. I have one child, Zola has three. We have life.”
• The Fall opens on 29 July in selected cinemas
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