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U.S. Track Stars Reach Crossroads Of Golden Careers Torrence, Devers Confront Midlife Crisis In Sport That Made Them Famous

At 31, Gwen Torrence is only a year older than her longtime rival, Gail Devers. Listening to the pair of them, it seems like much more.

While Devers this week spoke gamely of unbounded future success - including a sprint-hurdles sweep at the 2000 Olympic Games, where she could also become the first woman to win three Olympic golds in the 100 meters - Torrence sounded like an athlete mired in a midlife crisis.

The two three-time Olympic gold medalists meet again in the 60-meter dash at today’s Mobil Invitational at George Mason University. It could be the last running of this prestigious meet in view of Mobil’s withdrawal as the major sponsor of track and field.

Torrence’s demise isn’t quite that imminent, but she’s definitely sensing the twilight of a storied career.

“In the past, I wouldn’t take days off,” said Torrence, the 200-meter champion at the 1992 Games and a relay gold medalist in 1992 and 1996. “I wouldn’t dare miss a practice. I didn’t care what the weather or the rain or whatever. Now I take more days off. When I don’t have it in practice, I don’t go. And I rest more than I ever have. And it’s very scary.”

Scary because Torrence’s brain wants to retain that gung-ho attitude that won her three world championships and eight national titles. Her body, however, is finally starting to tell her no.

“I’ve beaten myself up so many years trying to be the best,” Torrence said. “And I feel like now that I can still be that, but I’ve got to calm down because I’ve beaten myself up really really bad… . My husband said I’m not that 24-year-old. I can’t just go at it like I used to. I have to think more instead of just running. I really have to think about my body a little bit more.”

Each of the last two years, Torrence has been hampered by injuries following the grueling indoor season. Last year, after straining her left thigh while winning the 100 at the Olympic trials, she failed to qualify for the 200, the event in which she was the defending Olympic champion. Once at the Atlanta Games, she settled for the bronze in the 100 behind Devers and Merlene Ottey of Jamaica.

That was the race that gave Devers her second 100-meter Olympic title, even though it was the hurdles that were supposed to bring the gold and glory. Devers fell at the last hurdle while leading the 110-meter hurdles at the 1992 Games and missed a bronze by .01 seconds in the event in 1996.

“There’s always something that motivates me, and it’s always the hurdles,” Devers said. “But the hurdles will not be an obstacle for me” in 2000, she added.

This will be Devers’ first indoor appearance in the United States this season. She ran twice in Europe, straining her right hamstring during the second race. So far, at least, such episodes haven’t caused her to overhaul her regimen as Torrence has done.

Perhaps that’s because such a change-of-pace can lead to self-doubt. That’s what Torrence is fighting now. So far, she’s not sure if her less-demanding approach is working, even though she won the 60 at the Millrose Games two weeks ago with a time of 7.13.

Torrence’s primary goal this year is the defense of her 100-meter title at the World Championships at Athens in August. If she doesn’t pull it off, she may revert to her old style next year, injuries or no.

“I hope that it’s going to work for me. I have to just wait and see the results. See how things go, and if that’s not the ingredient for me, I’m going back to being that other person,” she said, laughing.