Torrence, Gwen (1965—)
Torrence, Gwen (1965—)
African-American track and field athlete. Born on June 12, 1965, in Atlanta, Georgia; attended the University of Georgia on an athletic scholarship, graduated 1987; married Manley Waller (a sprinter and coach); children: Manley Waller, Jr. (b. 1989).
Won gold medal and set meet record (6.57 seconds) in 55-meter dash, Millrose Games (1986); won NCAA championships in 55 meters, 100 meters, and 200 meters (1987); won gold medals in 100 and 200 meters, World University Games (1987); won the gold medal in 200 meters, U.S. outdoor championships (1991); won gold medals in 200-meter sprint and 4x100-meter relay, and silver medal in 4x400-meter relay, Barcelona Olympic Games (1992); won gold medals in 100 and 200 meters, U.S. outdoor championships (1995); won gold medal in 100 meters, World championships (1995); won gold medal in 4x100-meter relay, and bronze medal in 100-meter sprint, Atlanta Olympic Games (1996).
Born in 1965, Gwen Torrence was one of five children in a working-class family in Atlanta, Georgia. A shy girl, Torrence spent a quiet childhood, first in Atlanta, then in the nearby suburb of Decatur. At Columbia High School in Decatur, her physical education teacher, Ray Bonner, encouraged her to run track and field, but Torrence was hesitant. When she finally agreed to give running a try, she refused to wear spikes (running shoes) or shorts, embarrassed that they would attract too much attention to a body she considered "skinny." After setting an unofficial state record in the 220-yard dash during gym class, wearing low-heeled patent-leather pumps, Torrence gave in to her coach's insistence that she train in proper athletic clothing.
Torrence became a high school All American as well as a three-time state champion in the 100- and 200-meter events. During her senior year in high school, she won two gold medals in the TAC Junior Olympics and in 1984, at age 19, qualified for the U.S. Olympic trials. Lacking confidence in her ability, however, she declined to try out for the U.S. team. After high school, Torrence attended the University of Georgia on an athletic scholarship. Initially placed in remedial-level classes, she moved quickly into the standard curriculum and made the dean's list. In 1986, the year Torrence considers her turning point, she beat 1984 Olympic gold medalist Evelyn Ashford in the 55-meter dash at the Millrose Games, setting a meet record of 6.57 seconds. The following year, she won NCAA championships at 55, 100, and 200 meters, and also took two gold medals at the World University Games in Zagreb, Yugoslavia.
In 1988, Torrence went to the Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, finishing fifth in the 100-meter finals and sixth in the 200-meter event. The next year, however, she experienced a setback when complications from her pregnancy kept her bedridden for three months. After her son was born in late 1989, Torrence had to work with great determination to regain strength, muscle tone, and endurance. Though she did not win a single race during 1990, she continued her disciplined training regimen, bolstered by her husband and coach Manley Waller, and in 1991 took home silver medals in the 100- and 200-meter World championship races. The woman who beat her, German athlete Katrin Krabbe , later tested positive for clenbuterol, a banned drug.
At the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, Torrence finished a disappointing fourth in the 100-meter sprint, later commenting that she suspected her rivals of using performance-enhancing
substances. When this remark was picked up by the media, it caused a scandal; although Torrence had not named names, she was vilified by the other runners and later issued a formal apology. Still at the center of the controversy, she went on to win a gold medal in the 200-meter sprint, another gold in the 4x100-meter relay, and a silver in the 4x400-meter relay. In 1993 and 1994, she won several U.S. and international meets, including the 100-meter races at the Grand Prix competitions.
In 1995, despite injuries to her right hamstring and knee, she won both the 100- and the 200-meter sprints at the U.S. outdoor championships. She almost repeated the feat at the World championships later that year, but although she easily won the 100, her winning time in the 200 was disqualified after replays showed she had stepped on the inside line of her lane. Torrence accepted the decision gracefully and prepared for her third Olympics. She entered the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta as a solid favorite in the sprints, but again injuries plagued her. After disappointing heats in the 200, she did not make the finals. But Torrence did win a bronze in the 100, and anchored the USA's gold medal-winning 4×100-meter relay team.
One of her biggest inspirations, according to Torrence, is her older brother Charles, who was injured as a youth while playing street football and was paralyzed from the waist down. She hopes one day to have a career working with disabled children.
Johnson, Anne Janette. Great Women in Sports. Detroit, MI: Visible Ink, 1998.
Elizabeth Shostak , M.A., Cambridge, Massachusetts