BBC Home
Explore the BBC
11 August  
Search ON THIS DAY by date
Go back one day Go forward one day  
Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
About This Site | Text Only
1984: Zola Budd in race trip controversy
The South African-born British athlete, Zola Budd, is again the centre of controversy following a disastrous accident during the women's 3,000m final at the Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

During the race she appears to have tangled with top American runner Mary Decker, putting Decker out of the race. The crowd's hostile reaction so unnerved the 18-year-old runner that she could only finish seventh.

Budd was already in the glare of the international spotlight after her application for British citizenship was fast-tracked earlier this year, in time for her to compete at the Games.

As a South African, she would have been ineligible to compete as the country is banned from international sport because of its policy of apartheid.

The decision to grant her citizenship has caused fury among anti-apartheid campaigners.

Hotly debated

The incident has made the 3,000m final the most hotly-debated race of the Games so far.

The few seconds which destroyed both women's hopes of a medal have been shown on television from every angle in an attempt to decide which athlete was to blame.

They show that shortly after the half-way mark, with Zola Budd slightly in front, she and Mary Decker bumped into each other twice.

In the second encounter, Mary Decker's spikes caught Budd's heel.


Budd was, as usual, running barefoot. Her left leg shot out as she stumbled, tripping Decker.

The American pitched forward and crashed to the floor on the infield grass, clutching her right thigh.

She was unable to get up and was carried from the track in tears, her race over.

Zola Budd carried on, but as she did so, the largely American crowd began booing her from the stands.

Obviously upset, Budd finished well down the field, and Maricica Puica of Romania took the gold.

At a news conference after the race, a tearful Mary Decker told journalists, "Zola tried to cut in without being far enough ahead. There was no question but that she was in the wrong."

Track officials disagreed with her, however. After initially disqualifying Budd for obstruction, she was reinstated just one hour later once officials had viewed films of the race.

Zola Budd told journalists that she tried to apologise to Decker in the tunnel leading away from the track after the race, but was told abruptly, "Don't bother."

 E-mail this story to a friend

Mary Decker minutes after falling
Moments after the collision, Mary Decker was on the floor, her race over

In Context
The issue of who was to blame for Mary Decker's fall is still the subject of heated debate.

Zola Budd continued to compete in Britain for another four years, but could never shake off the political controversy, nor overcome criticism over the Decker incident.

She continued to show what a remarkable athlete she was, however. She broke several British and world records, in 1985 taking the world 5,000m record by 10 seconds.

She returned to South Africa in 1988.

In 1992 a long-anticipated "re-match" with Mary Decker in a road race ended in anti-climax, with Decker winning easily.

Zola Budd has now largely given up running competitively, although she still runs for pleasure near her home in Bloemfontein, South Africa, where she lives with her husband and three children.

Stories From 11 Aug

Search ON THIS DAY by date
Go back one day Go forward one day  

^^ back to top
Front Page |  Years |  Themes |  Witness
©MMVIII | News Sources | Privacy & Cookies Policy