Mary Decker's Nine for IX Story Showcases Immense Pressure Olympic Athletes Face

Alex BallentineFeatured ColumnistAugust 13, 2013

Photo via @BringBackMile on Twitter
Photo via @BringBackMile on Twitter

Mary Decker's career should serve as a reminder to sports fans of just how much pressure Olympic athletes face every four years. 

The former Olympic middle-distance runner was the focus of ESPN's latest documentary in the Nine for IX series, which intends to "focus on captivating stories of women in sports told through the lens of female filmmakers," per ESPN Media Zone

Decker's story certainly qualifies as captivating. She's one of the most prolific track athletes of all time. As ESPN Stats & Info points out, she's set 36 American records and 17 world records. She still holds the U.S. record for the fastest mile, per 30 for 30

Prior to her appearance in the 1984 Olympic games, she won two gold medals in the 1983 World Championships and established herself as the best female distance runner in the world. She was even named Sportswoman of the Year in 1983, according to ESPNW. 

So why isn't she mentioned in the same breath as Carl Lewis, Mary Lou Retton and the other charismatic athletes that dominate the scene of their respective Olympic sports?

Because she was never able to capture Olympic gold.

As the documentary illustrated, Decker's legacy will forever be tied to one incident. Decker and rival Zola Budd's legs collided on the track, causing the American favorite to fall to the ground and injure her hip. She wouldn't finish the race or ever win an Olympic medal.

Budd was able to keep her balance, but eventually lost the pace, falling to seventh and failing to find the podium herself. 

Several years later, the documentary focusing on both athlete's lives is driven by the fact that they didn't come through on the sport's biggest stage.

While their impressive careers outside of the Games played a role in their story, it felt more like the prelude to a greater disappointment than the norm compared to an Olympic aberration. 

With the Winter Olympic games set to take place next year in Sochi, Russia and the Summer games going to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in 2016, Decker's should serve as a reminder of what the Olympics mean for these athlete's legacies and just how much pressure they face. 

If anything, Mary Decker's story should make us appreciate the clutch performances that we see at the Games every two years.