BARCELONA // Three decades after winning the first of nine Olympic medals, the remarkably youthful-looking Merlene Ottey has no intention of discarding her running shoes. The graceful, Jamaican-born 50-year-old, who has been sprinting for her adopted country Slovenia since 2002, took bronze in the 200 metres at the 1980 Moscow Games; three decades and 33 more major medals later she is at the European Championships in Barcelona to take part in the 4x100m.
"I think as long as I can still run I will run," Ottey, clad in blue jeans, a white shirt and sparkly sandals, told Reuters yesterday in the lobby of her hotel in the Catalan capital. "There are masters competitions going on so it's not like I'm the oldest person out there," she added. "The problem is that competing with people my age doesn't do me any good at the moment as I am a few metres faster than them, so what can I do?"
Ottey's haul of nine Olympic medals is more than any other woman in track and field, although she never won gold, missing out on the 100m title in Atlanta in 1996 to Gail Devers, the American, by 0.005 secs. Known as "The Queen of the Track", she will be the oldest athlete to compete at a European Championships if she is deployed in the relay later in the week. "It's good that at my age I can still make a relay team," she said. "And I know I'm not the slowest out there so that gives me some pleasure."
Ottey conceded that the Barcelona event, held at the stadium where she won bronze in the 200m at the 1992 Olympics, may be her last major competition. "Unless I get a huge miracle it's possible [this will be my last] but we will see," she said. "Over the years I've learned a lot about myself and about others and what I can do. For me there is no pressure now. I enjoy what I do." Ottey, who ran 11.67secs this month compared with a personal best of 10.74secs in Milan in 1996, was realistic about Slovenia's chances of making Sunday's relay final.
"This is a rare opportunity for us because normally Slovenia doesn't have a team," she said. "Unless people mess up it's going to be a challenge for us to advance. To get there I think we'd have to run 43 seconds and that would be a national record by far for us but we're not going to give up." * Reuters