Living the dream
In the early 1990s, Gwen Torrence was one of the best sprinters in the world, winning five Olympic medals, including three golds.
A reluctant talentGwen Torrence grew up in the deprived East Lake Meadows district of Atlanta (USA). Her gift for athletics gave her the possibility of a university scholarship but initially she told her coaches that she wasn’t interested, as she wanted to enrol in a school for beauticians. It was only due to the insistence of her parents and coaches that she finally signed on at the University of Georgia, but even then her main motivation was not the chance to further her athletics career. “My main aim was to be close to Herschel Walker,” she admitted. Walker, a future NFL star, was playing for the University of Georgia’s American football team, and the teenage Torrence was besotted by him. Nonetheless, she set about her training with focus and determination, working hard to develop the skills that would eventually take her to top of women’s sprinting.
Olympic apprenticeship At 22, Torrence was selected to compete at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul (KOR). She reached the 100m and 200m finals, finishing fifth and sixth respectively. Her first taste of the Games inspired her to greater things. She progressed quickly and at the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo, she claimed silver medals in both of the sprint events.
Gold in Barcelona The 1992 Games in Barcelona started with disappointment for Torrence, as she missed out on bronze in the 100m final by just two hundredths of a second. However, redemption was at hand on 6 August 1992, in the final of the 200m. After coming off the bend neck and neck with Russia’s Irina Privalova and Jamaican duo Merlene Ottey and Juliet Cuthbert, Torrence surged into the home straight in irresistible style to cross the line in a winning time of 21.88. She went on to run a terrific anchor leg in the 4x100m, crossing the line to seal victory for the USA in 42.11 seconds. Finally, she ran the second leg of the 4x400m final, helping the USA claim the silver behind the Unified Team comprising 12 of the 15 USSR successor states.
Home swansongAfter being crowned 100m world champion in Gothenburg (SWE) in 1995, Torrence admitted to feeling huge pressure going into the 1996 Olympic Games in her home city of Atlanta. Despite the weight of expectation, she still managed to claim bronze in the 100m, and then helped Team USA successfully defend their 4x100m title in a time of 41.95. That relay final was to be her last ever international race. After retiring from athletics, Torrence fulfilled her original ambition by becoming a hair stylist, and in 2010 opened her own salon in Atlanta. “I’ve lived my dream. My husband is always saying, 'Gwen, you're in the history books!' But because I'm just Gwen from the projects of East Lake Meadows, I don't dwell on it,” says the three-time Olympic champion.