The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

My Favorite All Time Female Sprinters

Oct 6th, 2012
8:50 am PDT

Me for Blog picI was going to continue in order and take a look at distance runners next, but decided to give the women their due and not wait until the end. So let’s take a look at my all time favorite female sprinters.

The tough part for me as I look back is that my favorites mostly come from the same time period – 70s through 90s. Unfortunately that was the heart of the drug era for women and the peak of the Eastern Bloc. So there will be some women on here that some may find questionable. I will simply give my reasons for including them and hopefully you will understand.

1. Evelyn Ashford – Ashford is one of those athletes that did it all. She broke the 10.80 barrier way back in 1983 and took the record down to 10.76 – good enough to still rank #8 all time. Her 21.83 makes her #15 after all these years. But for me Ashford is less about times than competitive heart. Because in the era of Eastern Bloc dominance Ashford rose up to become a sprint queen – the woman who beat the Eastern Bloc. She defeated the best that the East produced including Marita Koch and Marlies Gohr and she did it with style, grace – and a lot of heart. Her double victory over that pair at the 1979 World Cup highlighting a career that saw her as the mosts creditable force against FloJo in ‘88; and doing relay duty in Barcelona in 92.  Ashford was fluid, yet powerful and proved that the unbeatable could indeed be beaten and you didn’t need "assistance" to do it.

2. Irina Szewinska – This list is really a list of super women.  Laying claim as the original super woman is Szewinska. The first to move her way up the sprint ladder with tremendous success, she started out as short sprinter but quickly moved up to dominate the deuce. She then prolonged her career by doubling the distance and became the second woman to break the 50 seconds barrier running 49.77. She then took the record all the way down to 49.28 way back in ’76! She was the model for several of the women on this list.

3. Marita Koch – What Szewinska started, Koch finished. Yes, we know that the East Germans doped,  but drugs alone weren’t running around that track with Koch. This woman was technically solid, and competitively strong with bests of 10.83/21.74/47.60 – her deuce was once the WR, her quarter still the WR and standard lasting since 1985 with no one coming close. It’s the no one coming close that gets me. Koch was a combination of technical fluid power that has yet to be matched because all that is not in a pill – yet.

4. Gwen Torrence – Gwen is another triple threat that ran with an exuberance that was just love of the sport. She was an anti drug spokesperson long before it was popular always stating her positions regardless of the backlash that she got. This is a woman that worked out with her husband to get strong, and feared no woman in battle. When she came off the turn in the deuce – her best event in my opinion – she had a drive down the stretch that was relentless. Almost an Ashford clone in terms of competitive fire. And she too was a super woman with bests of 10.82/21.72/49.64. She was a major force in the 90’s.

5. Valerie Brisco – The year 1984 saw a revolution in the 400 in the US, and it was led by Brisco and Cheeseborough. They took the AR under 50 seconds and before they were through Brisco left it at 48.83. That was part of a long sprint double that saw her become the first person, male or female, to win both the 200 and 400 in a Major. Big time stuff. Brisco didn’t have the prettiest race, but she was always among the gutsiest on the track. She was one of those who showed pure heart in the stretch. A joy to watch compete.

6. Irina Privalova – Yet another super sprinter, this woman went 10.77/21.87/49.89 then ended her career in the 400H winning gold in Sydney at 53.02! We’ve not seen that kind of range from anyone, man or woman. Privalova was the epitome of technical mastery as she was nearly robotic in her movements but she was always in the thick of any race she ran regardless of the distance. More often than not it took a lean to defeat this woman, who was a contemporary of Torrence during a period that saw several of the sprints all timers on the clock competing.

7. Chandra Cheeseborough – Cheeseborough was the other half of the 400 coin in the US in ’84 that completely revised the American Record. Chandra was a high school Sprint star that maintained her stardom internationally. She moved up successfully to the 400 in ’84 running 49.05 – faster than anyone in the world in 2012! She was also a part of relay squads with Ashford that revised the 4×1 record as well.

8. Pam Marshall – Most of the women you’ve probably heard of already, Marshall may be a new name. Injury took her out early, but before that she was good enough to go 11.01/21.97/49.99 in the mid 80s – in just a handful of years. Marshall was one of those long string athletes that I’m fond of, and if not for injuries I think would have challenged things like those put down by Torrence and others.

9. Grit Breuer – Breuer was the last of the competitive Eastern Bloc sprinters, the start of her career coinciding with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Her career fell as well as the Junior 400 star who was running 49.5 with the big girls, lost a couple seasons to a drug ban. In her absence the competition caught up to her, but Grit was still in the thick of things. She makes my list because she became the ultimate relay runner, nearly single handedly keeping Germany in the thick of the 4×4 wars with huge anchors for years.

10. Diane Williams – Williams is another you may not be familiar with, but she was 10.86 in the 80s. Her problem is she ran in perhaps the toughest era ever with Ashford and the Eastern Bloc stars stealing most of the headlines. But Williams was always in the hunt and a mainstay with Ashford on several 4x1s as they took the US into the mid 41s "back in the day".

Next a quick look at women middle distance runners and then some hurdles and distance runners – male and female.

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16 Responses to “My Favorite All Time Female Sprinters”

  1. Skydance7 says:

    A little surprised Gail Devers didn’t make your list. Double Olympic gold medalist and a world-class hurdler to boot. And, a nice little rivalry with Torrence.

    • CHill says:

      Three names that didn’t make it that I wrestled with .. Devers, Perec, and Wockel .. In the end they were on the cutting room floor not because they were not great, but because I liked/enjoyed the others more .. This is a favorites list as opposed to greatest of all time ..

  2. Anderson says:

    I would definately put Marie Jose Parec on this list ahead of Brisco at least

    • CHill says:

      See my reply to Skydance for details .. That said Brisco was the original .. And Perec was good but not outstanding .. And then there was the way she went out post Atlanta …

  3. Aurelio Feldman says:

    Come on,man! No Gail Devers? She is a part of a very special group alonside Harrison Dillard and Fanny Blankers-Koen that won major titlles as a sprinter and hurdler.
    She is my favorite sprinter of all times and today when I see SAFP I always remeber Gail leaving everybody behind her out of the blocks, she was really amazing.

    • CHill says:

      In the end my issue with Gail was minimal appearances in the sprint .. She was primarily a hurdler who sprinted on occasion .. While the others ahead of her had to battle regularly .. Now when I do hurdles she’s a top ten as far as favorites and GOAT. …

      Interestingly enough I think there have been more start quality female sprinters than male .. This list could have gone 15 deep easily because there are so many women sprinters that off enjoyed over the years .. The New Millennium is basically missing on this list – and no one complained ..

      • Aurelio Feldman says:

        The problem with the beginning of the last decade is the doping issue. Marion Jones, Thanou, Kelly White, all of them Had doping suspensions. If You look really hard the first great sprinter after that generation is VCB who still aclive.

  4. Aurelio Feldman says:

    My point with Devers is that She won every major title that is, 2 olympic golds in the 100, 1 WC gold in the 100 And 3 WIC gold in the 60. She problably was more hurdler Than sprinter, but winning all those titlles in the sprint Would be even more amazing because of that.

    • CHill says:

      I can appreciate that .. No doubt about it, she was a champion and a competitor .. Like I said,I probably could have gone 15 deep with the women sprinters ..

  5. Ron says:

    In my opinion, placing doppers on your list is without merit. How do you know what they would have run without doping? Having Koch on your list and leaving Devers off of it, is like having Barry Bonds on your all time home run hitters list, and leaving Hank Aaron off of it. IMHO.

    • CHill says:

      Trying to decide who was and who wasn’t becomes problematic. Especially since we know moist don’t get caught ..

      As for Devers she’s in my top 12, just missed the list .. Final decision is i consider her a hurdler not sprinter in spite of the titles .,

  6. Waynebo says:

    You made a good case for Koch, but her inclusion still taints your list IMHO. There’s a very big reason why no one has come close to 47.60, and we all know that it’s not because of her “greatness”. I never saw her run (the WR video isn’t very clear) so I can’t appreciate watching her and maybe that’s why the facts scream louder than anything else to me. She obviously had talent and range, but also a lot of artificial enhancement. Too bad we’ll never know what she could have been clean.

    Anyway, thanks for another good read!

    • CHill says:

      I watched Koch .. And not to defend the Germans but they were extremely well coached .. Koch was a beautiful runner .. Technically solid .. Compared to Jarmila Kratochvilova who was simply a chemical powerhouse .. And there is where Koch made my list ..I watched the races between the two over the years ., And while Kratchvilova, who ran 47.99, was a running pharmaceutical experiment, Koch was well coached, fluid and just a superior sprinter .. She had help, as have many others including Kratochvilova over the years.. No others have brought the technical mastery that she did .,

  7. Jonathan Howland says:

    no Merlene Ottey? Maybe you disqualified her because she is still (!) running. The woman of bronze.

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