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  • Sunday, August 29, 1999

    Hurdling over adversity

    Devers and Engquist battle through illness to claim medals

    By STEVE BUFFERY -- Toronto Sun
      SEVILLE, Spain -- Two courageous women, forced to overcome tremendous hurdles in life, overcame a few more yesterday to win gold and bronze at the world track and field championships.
     American Gail Devers and Ludmila Engquist of Sweden battled back from near-fatal illnesses just to make it on to the Olympic Stadium track for the 100-metre hurdles final. In Devers' case, it's Graves' disease while Engquist, 35, is in the midst of battling cancer. The two amazing athletes proved that spirit and courage, as well as talent, can knock out adversity.
     Devers, 33, crossed the finish line in a sparkling 12.37 seconds, the fastest time in the world this year. Glory Alozie, 22, of Nigeria won the silver in 12.44, an African record. Engquist, the darling of this week's competition, took the bronze in 12.47 despite getting off to a bad start.
     "I am a little disappointed because I dreamt that I would have the gold," said the Russian-born hurdler. "However, a medal is a wonderful thing after all I have been through."
     Engquist, the mother of 17-year-old Natasha, had her right breast removed in April after being diagnosed with cancer in March and is scheduled to undergo two more chemotherapy treatments in a few days.
     She trained through four chemotherapy treatments leading to the worlds and has refused pain-killers.
     Devers' story is no less inspiring. Born the daughter of a Baptist minister, the Seattle native is arguably the top female track athlete of the 1990s, twice Olympic 100-metre champion, now a three-time world 100-metre hurdles queen and a two-time world indoor champ. And she has put together this stellar career despite suffering from Graves' disease, a life-threatening
     thyroid condition that required chemotherapy and radiation treatment during the early 1990s. A year before her 100-metre win at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, Devers couldn't even walk, never mind train.
     "I asked for God's help on the start line, that he would run with me and for me, and he did it for me," said Devers, who did survive a near-disastrous brush with the final hurdle yesterday. "So prayers do work."
     Like Engquist, fourth-place finisher Olga Shishigina (12.51) of Kazakhstan was suspended for four years (in 1996) for using banned drugs, but was reinstated two years later. Engquist's testosterone tale of woe began in February 1993, when she was banned for four years and was reinstated two years later. In her case, she proved to the courts that her ex-husband and coach,
     Nikolai, purposely spiked her vitamin supplements with steroids.


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